Headlines: July 30th, 2001

Over 100 of the larger councils in the UK have been offered a deal which would give freedom from a long list of targets set by Ministers and a relaxation in requirements to devise strategies and detailed plans to meet the needs of Whitehall departments. To make the deal more attractive there is an offer of pump priming funding, greater freedom to borrow capital and a potential bonus of 2.5% of their budget. All this comes to councils that are prepared to set 12 stretching targets that cover local priorities and some of the principal national targets and sign a local public service agreement with the Department for Transport Local Government and the Regions.Twenty councils signed up to local public service agreements in a pilot scheme and the targets they set included increasing the percentage of pupils obtaining five or more GCSEs at Grades A- G, bringing down the number of domestic burglaries and cutting the numbers of people killed or seriously injured in road accidents by 25%.

The Local Public Service Agreements reflect well established arrangements in central government where departments sign up with the Treasury to achieve a range of targets. The central arrangements provide no rewards for success nor penalties for failure. The Local Government Association has pioneered the use of agreements in local government as a way of allowing councils to focus on local problems and priorities rather than following Whitehall dictates on what are seen as national priorities. The expectation is that by giving councils freedom to set their agenda and flexibility in delivering services, there will be a better outcome.