Headlines: October 26th, 2006



With the long-awaited White Paper on local government due to be published today one leading London authority is calling for the Government to go further in giving more freedom to excellent authorities and a consumer group says that if public services are to improve, policy makers and service managers need to find opportunities to bring users and staff together.

The White Paper is expected to give details of how powers will be delegated to neighbourhood and parish level and to make councillors more responsive to local needs. It is also likely to include a commitment to greater devolution from Whitehall and Westminster and an expansion of the number of elected mayors who will get greater powers. The White Paper will be launched by the Communities Secretary, Ruth Kelly.

Conservative-controlled Westminster City Council has welcomed moves away from centralization but wants the Government to go further and faster and to grant powers to councils rated as ‘excellent’ who are already managing resources efficiently and delivering best value. Sir Simon Milton, the council’s leader, says, “For instance, Westminster is already implementing the renewed emphasis on neighbourhoods through the leadership role of local councillors. From January Westminster will be empowering residents and stakeholders to have more of a voice at a local level. Their ward councillors will have more influence on decision-making through greater community leadership and direct contact with local public service providers.”

He was pleased that the Government had listened to concerns about an over bureaucratic and target culture but added, “True devolution, however, requires councils to achieve financial autonomy and the real proof of whether this will happen must await the Lyons Review of Local Government in December.”

Meanwhile, the National Consumer Council has joined forces with the public service union, UNISON, to unveil what it calls “an original approach to shaping better local services” ahead of the publication of the White Paper. The idea of the “Shared Solutions” approach, which has been tested in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, is to bring frontline staff and users together to improve local service delivery by overcoming suspicion and frustration, which the NCC says, can damage every-day encounters between people and service providers. The approach aims to show that as understanding, trust and respect develop, those involved share local expertise and experience to negotiate change.

Ed Mayo the chief executive of the NCC, said, “Staff and users too often take on an ‘us versus them’ mentality because of the way services are delivered. But it’s short-sighted to assume that the interests of staff run counter to the interests of users. In the best public services, those interests are aligned.”

In the Newcastle trial tenants and housing officers overcame mutual suspicion and even open hostility to agree priorities for local service provision.