Headlines: November 15th, 2006



Some councils do not want to achieve all round excellence in Comprehensive Performance Assessments and are content to be just good enough in some areas, according to comments made by some councillors to Sir Michael Lyons’s inquiry into local government. Sir Michael has published three papers from some of his recent stakeholder engagement work, including one setting out the key issues discussed at events with councillors.

A second paper does the same for the business engagement events held in the summer and the third provides a short account of the Lyons Inquiry Economic Prosperity Conference in September. Sir Michael said he was keen for the issues that were discussed to be made public because they illustrated that matters of concern to local government are of equal concern to businesses and the wider community. “By publishing these documents I hope I am helping to continue to extend the forum for debate and to demonstrate the levels of interest and engagement around the country in these matters,” he added.

The first paper includes a summary of areas where councillors said they would like to spend less so they could free money for local priorities. The paper says, “Some local authorities do not want to strive for CPA excellence in all areas, wanting to be ‘just good enough’ in some. Some councillors claimed to be prioritising some activities simply to ‘tick inspection boxes’, subordinating what they saw as more important local priorities arising from specific local needs.” The paper quotes one contributor to the debate who summed up the view that too much money was spent by his authority on making sure performance indicators were met by saying, “You don’t fatten a pig by weighing it!”

Councillors taking part in the engagement meetings were also asked what they saw as the main barriers in trying to manage pressure and to ensure funds followed local priorities. Their answers included political challenges, ring fencing of funding and proscriptive national standards, a lack of transparency in funding mechanisms, lack of flexibility, frequent changes in grant regimes and council tax capping.

The councillor and business meetings were one element of the programme of consultation with stakeholders undertaken as part of the evidence gathering and testing process for the inquiry. The issues discussed included the changing role of councillors in modern local governance; enhancing the place-shaping role of local government; current local authority arrangements for promoting economic prosperity in their areas and scope for extending this and the changes necessary to ensure that the role of authorities in promoting local economic prosperity was most effective for local businesses.

All three papers are available on the inquiry website http://www.lyonsinquiry.org