Headlines: December 12th, 2001

Freedom from central interference, less bureaucracy, and more money in return for clear performance – it’s the mantra for all public services and this time it’s on offer to local government.The white paper ‘Strong Local Leadership – Quality Public Services’ claims to offer a subtle change of agenda for councils, who have not yet recovered their powerbase from the restrictions imposed on them during the 80’s and 90’s.

Interest in local government has dwindled to dangerously low levels in recent years, and the most common reason given by voters for their apathy is that local councils have no real power.

The new white paper tries to give back councils their status as a tier of democratic government that is a partner to and not so subservient to national government.

DTLR has promised to cut the number of plans and strategies that councils are required to produce, to scale back the number of area based initiatives and give greater scope to rationalise partnerships. It is also promising to remove at least fifty of its present requirements for councils to obtain Government consent before acting..

With the new freedoms and status comes a responsibility to deliver high quality services. To do this Councillors and council staff are promised the skills and money to do their jobs well, and citizens offered more choice in selecting the sorts of public services they want to use.

The performance of each council will be measured on a scorecard produced by the Audit Commission identifying them as either high performing; striving, coasting or poor performing. Previously it has been difficult to compare one council with another because they all vary in size, services and spending ability.

Other measures already used to drive performance – public service agreements and best value for instance – will stay on, but best value is to be streamlined following a review.

The Local Government White Paper ‘Strong Local Leadership – Quality Public Services’ can be found on DTLR’s website: www.local-regions.dtlr.gov.uk/sll/index.htm