Byers promises to cut through bureaucracy

The government confirmed its commitment last week to cutting red
tape for local authorities and offering greater freedoms and
flexibilities to high performers.

Speaking at the Local Government Association annual conference,
secretary of state for transport, local government and the regions
Stephen Byers ended recent speculation with his public promise of a
“wide-ranging” white paper on local government by the autumn.

He highlighted six key areas of “unnecessary bureaucracy” to be
addressed, including funding, plans, inspections and consent

Byers promised to tackle complicated planning and funding rules
and confirmed intentions to remove the “burden of red tape and
bureaucracy on local government”, working with the LGA to lift any
unnecessary restrictions as soon as possible.

New Regulatory Reform Orders will also allow government to cut
back on areas where currently local councils cannot act without a
minister’s approval.

“The achievement of both national and local priorities demands
that, at the frontline, people should not be hidebound by central
regulation, controls and diktats from on high,” Byers said. “They
should have freedom and flexibility to pursue innovative,
imaginative solutions to the issues they are facing.”

Byers also acknowledged the “overly bureaucratic” nature of the
Best Value system and the feelings of inspection overload. He
accepted the need to “refine the Best Value process” and the
inspection regime in general.

The government’s intentions to roll out local public service
agreements between central and local government and to closer
working with the private and voluntary sectors in the delivery of
public services were also confirmed.

Byers said modernisation of the local government finance regime
was also crucial. As well as abolishing credit approvals and
reforming investment regulations, Byers promised to give local
authorities “greater freedom to introduce fees and charges for
discretionary services”. He ruled out any in-year capping of
council taxes this year.

Finally, Byers said that the introduction of greater freedoms
and flexibilities for high-performing authorities would be matched
with sanctions for those which were under-performing.

“I am just as concerned about under-performance,” he said. “If
necessary, we will use the powers we have to ensure that
communities get the quality services they need.”

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