Headlines: May 7th, 2009

Councils have been told they must listen to the views of local people about ways to make efficiency savings. The Communities Secretary, Hazel Blears, told a meeting of local authority and community leaders that asking people what they wanted could lead to better services at a lower cost to council taxpayers.

Councils face having to make efficiency savings of 600 million pounds a year under plans in the Budget. The plan is that the money will be reinvested in local services or used to cut council tax bills. Those savings are on top of five billion pounds worth of efficiencies across the public sector over the next year.

Hazel Blears said neighbourhoods that worked closely together and supported each other would emerge stronger from the economic downturn. She said she could not agree less with people who argued that this was the time to stick with the status quo. “Councils are already working hard to make taxpayers’ money go further but the need to do this more does not mean doing less, it means doing things differently,” she added.

She told her audience that the current tough economic times made empowering local people in their communities more important. There were, she said, already excellent examples of councils making efficiency savings through smarter working and listening to the views of local people. She gave the examples of Camden where a way of checking services were easily accessible by asking local disabled people to be “mystery shoppers” and Northamptonshire where the “Pocket Parks” scheme, gave people control over the green spaces in their neighbourhoods.

“Involving communities is key to unlocking greater savings – when it comes to finding efficiencies, empowering local people is part of the solution, not part of the problem,” Ms Blears said.