ODPM publishes new Local Area Agreements

Local government minister Nick Raynsford launches LAAs which he
claims “represents a radical new approach in the relationship
between local and central government”. Lindsay Clark

Financing and managing local government never really promised to
be a barrel of laughs, and, as if to prove a point, the Office of
the Deputy Prime Minister this week launched a new strategy that
seems only to muddy the waters.

One official admitted the prospectus on the new Local Area
Agreements (LAA) was one of the most impenetrable government
documents he had seen. The plan is that LAA will incorporate
central government Public Service Agreements (PSA) and local PSAs
(LPSAs), and be able draw from existing Neighbourhood Renewal Funds

However, within this turgid soup of acronyms lies a policy shift
that could mean those providing community support services for
children and older people are freed from complex and repetitive
auditing and given more time to address locally driven

Introducing the new agreements, local government minister Nick
Raynsford said: “Local Area Agreements represent a radical new
approach in the relationship between local and central government.
We are focusing on what is important: the outcomes in key areas.
Central government will set strategic priorities but will leave
authorities and their partners to decide the detailed

Although central government will still set national targets with
public services agreements, devolved through local PSA, in LAA
these agreements to be interpreted in a local setting and
additional local priorities to be included.

The Local Government Association is taking a lead on the
introduction of LAAs and will meet local authorities interested in
piloting the system in September. Simons Edwards, senior policy
officer with the LGA, said the proposed agreements could
potentially take some of the hassle out of administering local
services. “Sometimes in local government you have to fill in
a form to move a paper clip from one side of the office to
another,” he said.  “We need to develop a new
relationship with central government, built on trust, not command
and control.”

The large number of funding streams available to local public
sector and voluntary services can mean that even very modest
projects can be expensive to administer, because of a variety of
reporting requirements. As a result, for some services
administration costs can equal the funding gained, Edwards

Local authorities will lead development of LAAs in discussion
with other local strategic partners, which might include primary
care trusts, voluntary groups, local education authorities, schools
and the forthcoming children’s trusts.

Although they could eventually apply to a broad range of local
services, the LAA pilots will initially address three themes, each
with its block of funding: children and young people; safer and
stronger communities; and healthier communities and older

The nine pilots due to be launched later this year will include
a least one unitary authority, a two-tier council system, and
authorities from areas of differing local needs. The government
said the LAA approach could be taken further in a more
comprehensive funding model. In one of the nine pilot areas,
therefore, a “single pot” LAA will be developed in
which there would be no barriers between the separate blocks of
funding and where there would be more flexibility in spending
funding on agreed local priorities.

While applauding LAAs as an attempt to decentralise service
priorities, the Local Government Information Unit, a local
democracy think-tank, suspects the project is being hijacked by the
big spending central government departments. It points out that the
three funding themes reflect the government departments of health,
education and the Home Office. Meanwhile, other vital local
services, such as the police, are left out in the cold.

Dennis Reed, LGIU chief executive said: “The LAA pilots
could develop into the best idea for better public services in a
long time and be a valuable step in overcoming the old-fashioned
centralist mindset. Sadly, this modernising initiative has been
somewhat mauled by the spending departments.”

The LGA’s Edwards admits there are many questions to be
resolved before service funding can be truly aligned.
“Probably some way off that discussion, but many people
thought we would not get this far. More and more people realise the
need to change their game, not just local and central government,
but in voluntary and community services too.”

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