Kiran Dhillon, Council Relationship Manager, NLGN
Regeneration and Renewal
Project: Local Government Modernisation Agenda
Period of Evaluation: 2002/03 – 2008/09
Evaluating Organisation: Centre for Local and Regional Government Research at Cardiff University
Evaluation Commissioned by: Office of Deputy Prime Minster
Aim and outline of project: The 1998 and 2001 White Papers introduced more than 20 policies, to modernise local government. Collectively referred to as the Local Government Modernisation Agenda (LGMA), these policies are aimed at improving the performance of local government in terms of: service quality; value for money; responsive and joined-up services; user and staff satisfaction; improved access to services for all groups.
Scope of evaluation report: the report provides an initial assessment of the impacts of the LGMA on improvement in local government in five over-arching areas: service improvement; accountability; community leadership; stakeholder engagement; public confidence.
Kiran Dhillon writes: The last few years have undoubtedly seen significant improvement in local government. The evidence, according to this evaluation, suggests that key elements of the modernisation agenda have had a considerable impact. CPA, the Best Value regime, e-governance and the National Procurement Strategy, have been particularly important drivers of performance improvement.
The widespread implementation of LGMA policies in local government seem to have encouraged greater focus on improvement, more effective leadership, increased engagement with staff, more effective use of performance management and increased partnership working. This has in turn driven up local government performance in most areas.
Interestingly, the story of local government improvement in services has not necessarily translated into increased public confidence. The evaluators note that overall net satisfaction with the performance of local government is low compared to most other public service providers and has declined since 1997. Several factors may have had a bearing on this, including inadequate communications with residents and users of services. Also, with higher levels of council tax, and slow progress on the efficiency agenda, a perception exists that councils are not delivering value for money services.
So, the LGMA policies have done little to increase public satisfaction with government. Councils meanwhile, are going to need to do more to raise confidence in their performance and have a better understanding of user requirements and demands.
Local authorities may therefore want to reflect on their relationships with local citizens. This may require devolving decisions to neighbourhood level so citizens can be more involved in how services are delivered. It could mean developing new relationships with users based on citizen and user co-production and co-delivery of services.
Councils also need to develop more effective forms of communication, to ensure the public understands the decisions being made. Many authorities have taken steps in this direction but the evidence is that progress varies from area to area, and between services. Councils wanting to gain public confidence should make a concerted effort to consider new approaches to how they engage with local residents.