Headlines: February 19th, 2002

Strategies and plans central departments require are to be cut by one third following the first ever review of the total planning burden placed on councils. The review found that councils supply the different central departments with a total of 66 plans each year, but this understates the burden because some of the requirements are for multiple plans.The review report describes a planning culture in central departments that maintains the resource demand on councils. There is an implicit assumption that plans enable local authorities to be more cost-effective and the cost of producing plans was given little consideration. Few departments had looked, or intended to look, at whether there are any alternatives to the plan based approach for monitoring compliance with national policy objectives or levels of activity. The most damming revelation is that ten plans are not used by anyone.

A wider issue for central departments and Ministers is that the research revealed that little progress has been made in joining up government. The report describes the ‘silo’ nature of central departments as a key difficulty in the better integration of plans. There is currently confusion between different departments who issue duplicate and in some cases contradictory guidance to councils. This situation is made worse with different funding regimes and planning cycles. Little hope is held out for streamlining the total planning process.