New measures to progressively pool local budgets is needed
- Unease that national indicators are too ill-defined and top-down
- Call for Whitehall to step back and give councils greater control
- But survey finds local partnerships working well
In an evaluation of the latest wave of Local Area Agreements, NLGN highlights significant achievements through the process, including a more joined-up policy framework, but warns that significant logjams are preventing the system working more effectively. Publishing the research today, NLGN argues that:
- National indicators remain too ill-defined and top-down to support Local Area Agreements that are truly locally relevant and evidence-based;
- Some Government departments have not offered sufficient flexibility to their local arms to allow them to play a significant role in Local Area Agreement delivery;
- The current consultation on CAAs leaves too many questions unanswered;
- Without significant and transparent incentives or penalties accountability for LAA success is obscure;
- Whitehall departments should commit to the primacy of the LAA. Where central mandates and regulations interfere with LAA delivery, the Local Area Agreement should take priority;
- Statutory Local Area Agreement partners should be expected to increase the amount of funding they pool by 0.5% each year, with a ‘bonus’ to those areas showing the greatest commitment to, and use of, pooled funding;
- Councillors should play a new championing role for Local Area Agreements, either on a ward by ward, or individual indicator basis;
- Resource and reward systems should be reformed to support the LAA with LAA outcomes linked to individual performance reward grants increased use of cross-agency secondments, and LSP involvement in senior appointments;
- Where local areas are successful in delivering their priority outcomes, they should be rewarded with greater flexibility over local funding, including further reductions in ring-fencing and access to other appropriate revenue streams.
There was similar optimism about the direction of Local Area Agreements, with the majority of councils favourable when asked how ‘fully formed’ their Local Area Agreement framework is.
Local Government Minister, John Healey MP has welcomed the report and writes in its foreword:
“[The process of] Agreeing LAAs has been a good start. But the real prize is translating LAA priorities into effective delivery of improvements for citizens over the next three years. In Government we need to build on the progress made during negotiations and ensure sensitivity to local priorities remains central to our policy decisions. This report rightly talks of the need to ensure local agencies and arms of Government unite behind the common LAA vision. I will be looking at this closely with colleagues across Government”.
Chris Leslie, Director, NLGN said:
“There is a great deal of goodwill across local authorities who are keen to make the LAA process work. The real challenge will be moving from deciding the priorities and how to measure progress, to actually managing delivery. This autumn’s “refresh” of the LAA process will be a critical test, especially when the economic context is changing so rapidly. Whitehall in particular will need to double its resolve to stick to its end of the bargain and not shelve these agreements because of financial pressures.”
NLGN is also today launching a new LAA Peer Matching Tool on its website to an area to see which of its peers have chosen an indicator set that most closely mirrors their own. The analysis will then allow authorities to see which indicators they have in common with other areas. It can be downloaded at www.nlgn.org.uk/public/laas/local-area-agreements.