Headlines: May 22nd, 2003

Local councils are challenged to confront established thinking about their role in the community by a report from the Institute of Local Government Studies at the University of Birmingham. The new legal power to promote the economic, social or environmental well-being in their areas creates a wide range of opportunities that could change the way councils respond to local communities and the environment.The new power will allow councils to incur expenditure and give financial assistance so they will be able to spend, lend, and give guarantees. They will be able to make arrangements and agreements and facilitate, co-operate, co-ordinate, so they will be better able to support Local Strategic Partnerships, and set up contracts, companies, trusts and joint ventures. They will be able to exercise functions on behalf of bodies including lead/joint commissioning, integrating services, and pooling budgets, not limited to the NHS. They will be able to provide staff, goods, services, or accommodation to private, voluntary and community sectors.

The Local Government Bill, when it becomes law, will allow councils to trade in any of their ordinary functions. They will do this through companies.

The report warns that exercising the new power and taking full advantage of it will involve new approaches for councillors and staff. New processes for decision-making, policy development, and communicating with departments and local people will be required. The biggest change will be in the way councils look at issues holistically and in developing new ways of working. Organisational culture will have to change. The new power requires outward-looking organisations which do not interpret the power as providing a new kind of control or direction.

Overview and scrutiny panels will be charged with monitoring the council’s policy towards use of the new power. The panels will need to consider processes for decision making, integrated policy development, and making effective use of the power.

The report “Well-Being: Making Use of Councils’ New Freedom” is available from: The Publications Officer, School of Public Policy, The University of Birmingham, Edgbaston, Birmingham, B15 2TT. Tel: 0121 414 2986 Fax: 0121 414 4989.