The grip of Whitehall departments on local government has been lessened with the publication of guidelines for the second generation of local public service agreements. The agreements provide for councils to set stretching service delivery targets and for those that are achieved they receive cash rewards. Freedoms and flexibilities are also linked to the agreements including a reduction of the burden to produce plans. The first generation of agreements launched in 2000 were based on national and local priorities. The local agreements reflect well established arrangements in central government where departments sign up with the Treasury each year to achieve a range of targets.The second generation agreements will allow councils the flexibility to negotiate around topics which are most important to their area, rather than have to fit around national targets. There is no national menu from which local targets must be selected. The Local Government Association has urged councils to become more ambitious with the targets they set and the freedoms they ask for.
There is also greater emphasis on partnership working. Councils will be encouraged to work closely with their local partners, such as Local Strategic Partnerships, the police and Primary Care Trusts to agree targets which they can work together on to deliver real improvements in their neighbourhoods. There will also be a bigger role to play for District Councils who will be expected to be one of the main partners with shire counties. Agreements are unlikely to be agreed by central government if they do not substantially involve District Councils.
Sir Sandy Bruce-Lockhart, Vice-Chairman of the Local Government Association said: “The issues of major concerns for local residents are both complex and inter-related. They have to be addressed in strong partnerships across the public sector and with the voluntary, private and community sectors. Local government is committed to setting ambitious targets which are locally owned. We now need all departments across central government to share this commitment and award the freedoms and flexibilities we need to deliver improvements to our local communities.”