Headlines: June 25th, 2008

A local government think tank has begun a consultation process which is designed to refocus public services towards the citizen. The consultation paper, ‘Getting to the heart of local accountability’, has been produced by the Local Government Information Unit and suggests there should be a single commissioning process for all local public services.

The LGiU believes this step would empower local authorities as the only democratic local body and would, therefore, strengthen accountability. It is asking for a range of views to help it formulate its position on local accountability. It will then feed into the draft legislative programme, including the Constitutional Renewal Bill.

The paper also proposes that local health and policing budgets should be devolved to councils but that local health and police services should broadly retain their operational structures. It also argues for
neighbourhoods, charters, petitions and calls for action to be strengthened as part of the integrated commissioning process and for the introduction of a high-profile event for visible political scrutiny and public accountability

Amelia Cookson, a policy analyst at the LGiU’s Centre for Service Transformation, said the Government had promised to devolve power and to decentralise and
revitalise democracy. The idea had the support of both major opposition parties, she said and added, “But somewhere this is coming unstuck.”

Ms Cookson said there had been huge progress in reforming the performance regime after the Government learned the lesson that top-down measures soon stop having the effect that ministers want. “But just
letting go of the bureaucratic stranglehold is not enough. We now need to seriously think about the steps that we need to take for local public services to become truly locally accountable so that they are both answerable and responsive to local people,” she added.

The consultation paper has been developed to influence the Department for Communities and Local Government’s community empowerment white paper, which is expected next month and the LGiU says it presents a chance to trace the close relationship between empowerment,
accountability and efficiency but there will need to be a ‘fundamental shift in power’