Local strategic partnerships are changing the power structure of local government. Research into how the partnerships have progressed since they were launched two years ago shows that councillors feel a loss of power. The research was carried out by the universities of Warwick, West of England, Liverpool John Moores and the Office for Public ManagementThe partnerships bring together at a local level the different parts of the public sector including councils, the health service, central departments as well as the private, community and voluntary sectors. Up to 40 public bodies may be providing services in any one locality and the partnerships have to find ways to bring them together so that people receive a seamless service.
A key issue which has emerged from the research is whether the Executive Group of the Council report to the Local Strategic Partnership or whether the Partnership reports to the Council. Partnerships are seeking to ensure that there is space for all partner organizations to contribute and that councils do not dominate priority setting and decision making. Councils are arguing that as non-elected bodies partnerships lack legitimacy. In some cases partners are content to leave most of the work to the council.
This power shift presents a challenge for councillors who have to change from command and control thinking and style of working to an influencing role. The research identified a need to support councillors in adapting to this new role and in developing a capacity for strategic thinking.