Independent think-tank NLGN has responded to the Government’s recent consultation paper Tackling Poor Performance in Local Government, offering detailed criticism of the draft strategy and calling for far more robust intervention plans.
In a document, made public today, NLGN argues that any intervention must be a necessarily unpleasant experience for failing local authorities:
“So that members and management have every incentive to avoid ever getting into such a situation. Moreover, that it is clear to the local electorate that what has happened so that accountability is properly assigned”.
Commenting on the response, NLGN Executive Director Dan Corry today said:
“While intervention is a very difficult step for the government to take, and one that we hope would be used sparingly, that is no excuse for having an intervention strategy that is weak and not fully thought through. We hope our response will help the government think through these issues.”
While considering effective, speedy intervention as ‘a keystone’ to its general belief in localism NLGN argues that central government must retain adequate powers of intervention where basic services are not being delivered, and that such intervention must be:
- clear, transparent and predictable
- able to create a system with realistic prospects of people or organisations wanting to take on ‘rescue’ jobs
- well targeted and precise in identifying key problems
In addition the system must, as far as possible, not involve Ministers in the decision making process:
“If a system becomes contingent on Ministerial decision at every step of the way then political game playing results; Ministers will feel under enormous pressure; officials, in trying to deal with the local authority, will not be believed; and the whole process will be slow when speed of action is required”.
Identifying the restoration of local democratic responsibility as the key objective, NLGN also advocates the need for a clearer exit strategy, noting how an earlier statement on mayoral referenda within the White Paper appears to have been toned down.
“Since such a calamitous breakdown in performance often stems from a breakdown on the political side, the electorate should be given the chance to vote on a very different governance structure”.
NLGN’s response to the consultation document also includes criticisms that it:
- fails to make apparent how a joined up approach to intervention will operate across Whitehall and prevent inter departmental squabbling
- does not spell out sufficiently the detail of the way that intervention will work with respect to the position of elected members or how scrutiny would operate
- appears to give no role to the workforce with respect to Partnership Boards
- does not clarify who will bear the costs of intervention.
All media enquiries to Ian Parker – 020 7357 0116
NLGN is an independent think-tank, seeking to transform public services, revitalise local political leadership and empower local communities.
The Government’s consultation document was published on 20 August 2002 with replies requested by 30 September 2002 – www.odpm.gov.uk It follows a commitment in the Local Government White Paper of December 2001.