Headlines: January 19th, 2006

David Miliband, Minister of Communities and Local Government, has set out a vision for local government where power is moved down from Whitehall to councils and from councils to citizens. He has proposed a stronger framework of opportunity and responsibility to bring about a double devolution, not just to the Town Hall but beyond, to neighbourhoods and individual citizens. He believes that this would allow modern society to reach its potential when citizens individually and collectively are able to use their knowledge and capacity to shape their lives and their communities. Currently there is a power gap between what people can do and what the system encourages them to do.Re-shaping local government in this way would mean a more visible and powerful role for ward councillors. Because of their democratic mandate they are well-placed to act as mediators, filters and advocates for their local communities. In the future it is envisaged that ward councillors should be speaking and acting for their communities and neighbourhoods and holding authorities to account. They would be accessible to the whole of their electorate, listening to and representing the views of other community advocates. They would also foster good working relationships between service providers and communities.

This vision will be taken forward by David Miliband in the Spring and he will work with the LGA, national representatives of the voluntary and community sector and others, to produce a joint National Neighbourhoods Framework. This will be the central-local government framework for empowering neighbourhoods and will inform local strategies on neighbourhood empowerment, as reflected in Community Strategies and Local Area Agreements.

Neighbourhoods can then draw on these in creating their own Neighbourhood Charters. Such charters would set out how public services are delivered to a neighbourhood and the empowerment mechanisms that are available to local people. They would set out the expectations of users and providers and in this way provide a basis for people to be able to call for action when their expectations are not met. In the course of the Spring these ideas will be taken around the country to spread the best practice.

One effect of these radical proposals will be the scrapping of Comprehensive Performance Assessments. The CPA will be replaced with a system where citizens can exercise quality control. Sir Sandy Bruce-Lockhart, Chairman of the Local Government Association said: “Local councils have argued since last July that they should be measured and judged by their local residents rather than by bureaucratic Whitehall targets. Local government is determined to drive improvement through people power rather than red tape. The replacement of the CPA with a system that will give a voice to residents about how councils are performing for local people is what has been needed and necessary. It will allow a greater say in how services are run for the benefit of the community while reducing regulation”.

The LGA believes that the CPA has reached its sell-by date because it has become too bureaucratic and too focused on Whitehall targets rather than on residents. Councils have become increasingly bogged down in the 750 performance targets, stifling their ability to deliver the right services, in the right time and at the right cost. The cost of complying with all the unnecessary bureaucracy has detracted from cash getting to the services that need it most. The new system would hopefully reduce the amount of money red tape has sucked up that could help provide the better local services local people want and need.