Select Committee on Delegated Powers and Deregulation Twelfth Report



The draft protocol relates to the intervention powers in the best value provisions of the Local Government Bill 1998. It has, however, been drafted with the possibility of extension to intervention powers in other legislation in mind. The powers vary in form and process, and the range of actions open to the Secretary of State. A decision on whether it is possible to cover all intervention powers in a single protocol, perhaps in a core text with variations relating to differences in statute between powers and procedures, will be taken when the Local Government Bill is in its final form. (See Appendix 2 for a summary of the main intervention powers to which a general protocol on intervention might apply).

Whatever its final form, the protocol will record an understanding between central and local government as to the purpose and principles concerning the use of intervention powers, and the way in which they should be exercised. The protocol cannot extend, limit or change the powers of the Secretary of State, or be interpreted so as to fetter his discretion.

The draft protocol is still under discussion with the LGA, and these discussions are expected to continue at least until the Bill receives Royal Assent.

The Welsh Office will be developing with the Welsh Local Government Association (WLGA) a similar protocol for intervention. The Assembly will have responsibility for intervention and will wish to discuss the draft protocol to be developed by the Welsh Office and WLGA in due course.

Draft Protocol on Intervention Powers


This Protocol derives from the Framework for Partnership signed in November 1997 by the Deputy Prime Minister on behalf of the Government and the Chairman of the Local Government Association (LGA) on behalf of local authorities. The Framework provides for the Government and the LGA to discuss policy for the use of intervention powers, including how best to facilitate a supportive rôle for the LGA.

The Protocol gives expression to the shared aim of central and local government to raise standards in public service, to support and assist local authorities in improving services, and to provide a clear framework for intervention by central government in cases of failure and an orderly process for resumption of service by the local authority.

The Protocol sets out the general principles which would underpin the exercise of the Secretary of State's intervention powers under the Bill, now before Parliament, and the role of the LGA. The term 'Secretary of State' is used throughout to mean the appropriate Secretary of State.


Local authorities have a responsibility to deliver to local people services to clear standards. Local authorities should set those standards—covering both cost and quality—for all the services for which they are responsible. But in those areas, such as education and social services, where the Government has key responsibilities and commitments, the Government will itself set national standards. The best value legislation requires councils to improve continuously their economy, efficiency and effectiveness in delivering services and meeting standards.


Where evidence and experience show that a local authority is at risk of failing in that duty in respect of a service or services, there are several ways of achieving improvements. Councillors, officials and contractors have the prime responsibility for delivering quality services and addressing shortcomings and failings. The LGA and the Improvement and Development Agency are committed to work with local authorities to support improvement where problems exist, and the LGA encourages its member authorities to give early warning of potential problems emerging from inspections, draft reports, complaints, reviews or other sources so that advice and support can be offered. Support may be offered by other authorities through networks, or the authority may be helped to identify and procure other external advice and assistance.


  • The government will exercise intervention powers only when there is clear evidence that an authority is failing either to discharge its functions adequately or failing to meet its statutory obligations.
  • The Secretary of State will inform the authority of the reasons for intervention whenever using his powers under best value legislation [and other legislation].
  • The form and extent of intervention will reflect the type and seriousness of failure and the need for effective improvement.
  • Except in cases of serious service failure or unless there is a need for urgent intervention, the authority will normally be given the opportunity to make the necessary improvements itself.
  • Best value authorities will provide accurate and timely responses to requests for information, and co-operate with such action as the Secretary of State may direct in accordance with his powers and this Protocol.


Intervention powers will be invoked on the basis of clear evidence. Such evidence may emerge, for example, from:

  • annual audits of financial accounts;
  • audit of local performance plans;
  • Audit Commission inspections of fundamental reviews;
  • inspection reports;
  • public interest reports;
  • reports of inquiries, Ombudsman investigations or judicial findings;
  • concerns raised about serious danger or harm to the public.

Examples of triggers are at Appendix 1.

The authority will be given the opportunity to make representations about any report which is the basis for a proposed intervention.

If necessary, and as urgently as the case requires, the Secretary of State should make further investigations to ensure he has all relevant information.


Once the Secretary of State decides that the facts of the case mean that intervention is likely to be necessary, he will formally notify the authority and the LGA. The usual sequence of action would be as follows:

  • The authority will be notified in writing of the improvements the Secretary of State judged necessary.
  • The authority will be given until a specified deadline to produce and publish a statement of action for making such improvements.
  • The statement of action will need to set out clearly the actions to be carried out, the people responsible, the costs involved, the intended outcomes, the dates by which they are to be achieved and the authority's own proposals for monitoring and implementing the statement of action.
  • If the statement of action is acceptable to the Secretary of State, the authority will be notified, informed how implementation will be monitored, and given a deadline by which specific improvements must be completed.
  • If the statement of action is unacceptable, the Secretary of State will notify the authority and the LGA of his decision to exercise further intervention powers.
  • The authority will be given the opportunity to make representations about the direction proposed.

If monitoring of the statement of action shows that it is not being implemented effectively, or if the outcomes are not met on time, the Secretary of State will inform the authority and intervene as necessary to secure improvements.

If during monitoring of a statement of action evidence emerges that the authority is failing adequately to discharge one or more of its other functions, the Secretary of State will inform the authority of how he intends to proceed, in line with this Protocol.


Although the above arrangements will be the norm, there may be exceptional cases where the severity or persistence of failure, or the continuing risk of harm or financial loss, show that urgent intervention is necessary. If these circumstances prevail, and an authority could reasonably be expected to be aware of these problems and has failed to take adequate action to address them, then the Secretary of State retains the discretion to abbreviate the procedures outlined above as he sees necessary. When intervening in this way, the Secretary of State will notify the authority and the LGA of the intervention that is necessary and the reasons for intervention, and will provide a full explanation of his reasons for curtailing the procedures.


The Secretary of State may take such action he judges necessary to secure compliance by the authority with the requirements of Part I of the Local Government Act [and other legislation]. This may require, for example, directing the local authority to act within a specified period to:

  • prepare or amend a performance plan;
  • follow specified procedures in relation to a performance plan;
  • carry out a review of its exercise of specified functions;
  • make sure a function is carried out so as to achieve specified objectives;
  • secure advice/consultancy on the performance of that function;
  • secure the function from a specified provider or put the function out to tender.

The Secretary of State may also direct a local inquiry to be held.

A list of the forms of intervention which might be used are at Appendix 2.


Any announcements, publications or press releases issued in relation to any part of the procedures for intervention covered under this Protocol will be subject to the agreement set out in the section titled 'Public Announcements and Exchange of Information' in the Schedule for Arrangements for the Conduct of Central-Local Relations under the Framework for Central Local Partnership.


In cases where a function is exercised by the Secretary of State or a person acting on his behalf, the Secretary of State will regularly monitor the function involved and consider whether the authority is in a position to resume and sustain effective responsibility for the function, and will notify the authority and the LGA of his decision and the reasons for it.

Where intervention is based on a direction which leaves responsibility for the function with the local authority, the direction will be lifted when the Secretary of State is content that the objectives of the intervention can be met on a sustainable basis. Lifting the direction will not nullify any contracts which resulted from it.

previous page contents next page

House of Lords home page Parliament home page House of Commons home page search page enquiries

© Parliamentary copyright 1999