Throroughly modern local government
17 March, 2005

Natalie Tarry, Research Officer, NLGN
Public Private Finance

The modernisation and wider public service reform agenda continues to create challenges for most local authorities. From more responsive and personalised services to social and economic regeneration and community engagement. At the same time, government is seeking greater efficiencies, more value for money and better use of resources. With unprecedented levels of investment in public services and a wide range of options available to them, the pressure is on local authorities to demonstrate success.

Public Private Partnerships are playing a significant role in this context, along with partnering arrangements with the voluntary sector, public agencies and indeed collaboration between different councils. And the New Local Government Network (NLGN) has carried out a year long study into innovate ways in which some local authorities are now operating. The research – New Ways to Modernise – identifies new trends in the partnership market and how these are being influenced by the developing agendas. In highlighting innovation – in terms of the outcomes now being delivering and, in some cases, the creation of new structures – many lessons can be learnt.

The need to deliver greater efficiencies is probably the agenda that currently bears heaviest on the shoulders of local authority Chief Executives. The Gershon Efficiency Review lays considerable emphasis on the use of partnerships and collaboration in producing efficiency gains. As something that does not come naturally to many local authorities, cultural change is required for it is to truly succeed.

One example where this is already happening is the partnership between Suffolk County Council, Mid-Suffolk District Council and BT. The problems they have sought to address through joint working are common among many local authorities. Most citizens within the County do not understand council service boundaries, and by extension which authority is responsible for emptying their bins and which for delivering social care. The Suffolk partnership is trying to address this by creating single points of access for customers and communities, and aims to offer choice and convenience. Among the improvements will be a single customer service centre, joining-up county and district services for enquirers, a series of ‘one-stop-shops’, a website and a single point of access to health and social care services.

Another vital plank in the developing modernisation agenda is the economic and social regeneration of communities. Some partnerships seek to impact on the wider local area. They use local businesses and forge successful relations with the community; they work together with schools and the voluntary sector to create tangible improvements for the local community. They think beyond their role of service provider to deliver on so-called “soft” issues.

The partnership between the London Borough of Barking and Dagenham and Accord illustrate this. Although Accord came on board to help the Council improve its housing repairs service, the partnership is also seeking to raise the local community’s pride in the Borough – by making it a ‘cleaner, safer and greener’ place to live and work. They employ local labour and involve local small and medium sized enterprises in their work. Accord also have a growing apprentice scheme and strong relations with the local college and voluntary sector, for example creating work and training space at its Barking Depot for special needs children. All the while, they have delivered on service improvements and greater efficiencies – indeed, meeting 90% of their fourth year targets within the first year.

The way its users are engaged in determining local service delivery is the hallmark of a 21st Century council. Local authorities acting alone cannot solve the big issues in their communities any longer.

Gedling Borough Council, a district in Nottinghamshire, operates a public-public-voluntary partnership to combat anti-social behaviour and crime in one of its most deprived estates. This involves an active local residents group (HEAT – Honeywood Estate Action Team) and other local partners, such as the police and voluntary bodies. The partnership arose out of complaints by residents about fly-tipping, abandoned vehicles and noise nuisance.

HEAT have been successful in obtaining funding and making contacts with the wider community, including local businesses. Monthly residents meeting are held and a newsletter produced to keep people informed of local action and progress. Successes include a 35% decrease in recorded crime and a 70% reduction in abandoned vehicles, and residents’ perception of the safety of their locality has increased. Indeed, local people now have a say over the use of a derelict site on the estate, upon which they plan to build and then run a community centre.

Partnerships with private sector and collaborative arrangements with other local authorities and public bodies have a role to play in the modernisation of local government, but few councils are currently recognising their potential. Too many have are scared off by negative perceptions and still view partnerships through the taint of their CCT experience. But the world has changed and new forms of partnerships are helping councils deliver on some of the challenging agendas they now face. Although many success stories can be found of better service delivery, innovation and greater efficiencies, local government generally needs to ensure it is truly considering all the options available and not base their decisions on prejudices.

New Ways to Modernise is available price £26.25 (inc p&p) from