White paper sets out plans for ‘scorecards’ and more deregulation

Councils in England will be classified as
either high-performing, striving, coasting or poor-performing,
according to plans in the new Local Government White Paper.

Described as “a radical programme for
improving council services, enhancing local democracy and
strengthening community leadership”, the white paper plans to build
on the Best Value review and assessment regime, as well as local
public service agreements, to develop a national performance
assessment framework.

Under the proposals, independent public
services watchdog the Audit Commission will pull together
performance indicator data, inspection and audit reports, and
separate corporate governance assessments, to classify councils in
one of four categories, including the publication of a “balanced
scorecard” so that the public can judge their council’s

In return, high-performing councils will
receive extra freedom for further service improvements, such as
reduced ring-fencing, a lighter touch inspection regime and more
opportunity to trade on their successful services.

But where councils are failing, with little or
no prospect of improvement, the government has said it will apply
early intervention measures, including transferring functions to
other providers, putting the council into administration and giving
stronger councils, or other public bodies, a role in running the
failing services.

Overall however, the white paper promises
increased deregulation for all councils, such as limiting
ring-fenced budgets to “genuine high priorities for government”,
more freedom for councils to borrow and invest funds, reducing the
numbers of plans and strategies councils have to produce, and
scaling back on area-based initiatives and giving local strategic
partnerships greater scope to rationalise partnerships.

In announcing the white paper, local
government secretary Stephen Byers said it represented a “new
vision for local government at the beginning of the twenty-first
century” and would “tackle the trend towards excessive central
prescription and interference which dominated central-local
relations in the 1980s and 90s”.

While welcoming the paper, public service
unions have warned of the danger of creating a two-tier system of
local government by punishing poor-performing councils, thus making
it difficult for them to improve.

Strong Local Leadership – Quality Public
, available from the Department for Transport, Local
Government and the Regions, www.dtlr.gov.uk  

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