Headlines: April 2nd, 2003

More than half of the local councils, which have been granted Beacon Status in the latest round of the scheme to reward the best public services, are receiving the award for the first time. The 54 authorities being rewarded this year will receive a share of government funding worth 5 million pounds to help them promote best practice. This year, for the first time, some of this funding will be used to encourage the Beacon councils to work directly with authorities in need of improvement in a peer support scheme.The results of the latest round of the scheme, announced by the Local Government Minister, Nick Raynsford, see 58 Beacon awards – including some for joint projects – being given to the 54 authorities. For the first time the winning bodies include a fire authority – Cheshire – which is picked out for its work on Community Cohesion. A quarter of the awards this year go to district councils.

Four local authorities – Barnsley and Rochdale Metropolitan Boroughs, Cornwall County Council and Leicester City Council – are each named as Beacons under two of the ten themes of this year’s round and one council, Knowsley Metropolitan Borough wins the accolade in three areas of its work.

All the winners are judged to have shown excellence and a commitment to spreading best practice in a range of specified services. Themes include raising standards in secondary education, co-ordinating road works to minimise disruption to pedestrians and motorists, ensuring quality of access to information, services and jobs through Information Communications Technology, reducing and preventing homelessness and supporting the economy in rural areas.

Mr. Raynsford said excellent public services should be a goal that all local authorities were striving for as they had such a direct bearing on people’s lives and the Beacons selected this year were great examples of that. But he warned, “We know that peoples’ expectations are rising. We must keep pace with these changing needs and requirements, otherwise we will not be able to provide the quality services that people expect and deserve.”

The Beacon Status winners will work with the Improvement and Development Agency (IDeA) to share their best practice with other councils and authorities through a series of learning events that will take place until the summer of next year. An independent advisory panel made recommendations to ministers on the selection of Beacon authorities and its full report is available at http://www.local-regions.odpm.gov.uk