Headlines: October 13th, 2003

The route to more effective local democracy is increasingly seen by some as the creation of directly elected boards to provide specific services. The areas affected include health, schools, police and housing. These developments have prompted Sir Jeremy Beecham, Leader of the Local Government Association Labour Group to write to Health Secretary John Reid to express disquiet about the potential fragmentation that would flow from creating elected boards to run the new foundation hospitals.In his letter Sir Jeremy argues that the post code lottery where life expectancy in Manchester is very much lower than in North Dorset does not result from any single cause such as healthcare. The disparity results from a complex mix of poverty, poor housing and social, economic and environmental disadvantage. As a consequence it is important that health provision is closely connected with other relevant services. This connection can be better achieved within an overarching framework of accountability rather than institutionalising separateness. He adds that the construction of a series of independent bodies would not amount to local governance. Specifically it would not provide a mechanism to resolve conflicting claims on resources or the determination of local priorities even within a national framework.

Sir Jeremy believes that working at authority level with Local Strategic Partnerships and at community level with local residents and interest groups, councils and councillors are best placed to identify and lead the response to local need. He has called for a debate on the issue.

Changes are also being called for in the governance of the police. Three chief police officers have put forward proposals for a three tier policing structure operating at national, regional and local levels with the number of forces reduced from 43 to 20. Under the proposals policing boards would be responsible for the governance of local police activities. Recent Conservative Party proposals follow a similar line on governance with a plan for the election of sheriffs and police boards.