Select Committee on Transport, Local Government and the Regions Memoranda


Memorandum by Local Government Information Unit (LGIU) (LGA 10)

POWER FOR LOCAL AUTHORITIES TO PROMOTE ECONOMIC, SOCIAL AND ENVIRONMENTAL WELL-BEING

  The LGIU has been actively involved, over a number of years, in promoting a community leadership role for local authorities that is now underpinned by the new power to promote economic, social and environmental well-being contained in the Local Government Act 2000 (referred to here as the power of well-being).

  The new power has great potential to develop the community leadership role of local authorities in new and creative ways. However, in order to tap this potential councils require adequate support and guidance. In particular, the use of the Secretary of State's power to amend or repeal enactments under section 5 of the Act has been a stumbling block, in that its scope is not fully understood. Councils need to know that the effort required to make an application is likely to be justified by a sympathetic response from the DTLR. What is required is a simple, clear, speedy and transparent system to remove obstacles to the exercise of the power of well-being. We understand that there is a provisional agreement from the DTLR for the joint production, together with the LGA, of a Tool Kit for implementing the provisions of section 5. It would be helpful if this is done without delay and provides for a simple process to eliminate obstacles.

  One area of our concern is the absence of adequate integration between the legal framework being developed for best value under section 16 of the Local Government Act 1999, and the power of well-being. In particular, draft guidance from the[1] DTLR, on the proposed introduction of new powers to facilitate the achievement of best value, fails to integrate those powers with the pretty well identical power of well-being. This introduces unnecessary complexity and confusion, and risks undermining the community leadership programme by marginalising well-being activities and creating an area of uncertainty and risk about use of the well-being power. We urge the government to avoid the development of two separate regimes to deal with best value and well-being.

NEW ARRANGEMENTS WITH RESPECT TO EXECUTIVES, INCLUDING ELECTED MAYORS AND THE CABINET MODEL

  Councils have implemented new political structures with innovation and determination to make them a success. There are many areas of emerging good practice. This has been a major change and needs time to develop. Given the negative results and low turnout of mayoral referenda so far we do not believe the Secretary of State's power to impose referenda should be used further.

  In our view it is sensible to keep new constitutions under review and to address problems. Councils also may need to make changes if there are petitions and referenda. However, our view is that such constitutional review should be voluntary (unless there is a successful referendum). The arrangements for councils to choose to carry out consultation of their own design but for civil servants to then attempt to assess consultation in which they have not taken part, are less than satisfactory, and not the best use of resources.

  There are areas where fine-tuning of regulations may be useful in the light of experience. For example, the Electoral Commission has highlighted the problems councils experience in providing public information in the immediate lead-up to a referendum. We believe councils should be free to provide more substantial information as long as it is neutral in character. There may be a need for changes to the guidance on scrutiny to take greater account of scrutiny of external organisations, in particular the NHS. This should be developed in consultation with councils, and we would be glad to contribute ideas. Access to information, including the working of the Forward Plan and the definitions of key decisions, should be kept under review, particularly in the light of externalisation and the implementation of the Freedom of Information Act.

  We would welcome the committee revisiting these issues in a year's time when we feel we could submit a further response.


1   Working with others to achieve best value-a consultation paper on changes to the legal framework to facilitate partnership working, DETR, March 2001. Back


 
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