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Meg Munn MP - Sheffield Heeley's voice in Parliament | Welcome
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Driving Improvement for People and Places

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

At the Local Government Association (LGA) annual improvement conference in Nottingham, Meg gave the following speech.

 

It’s good to be back in Nottingham. As some of you know, I spent a number of years here including 4 years as a City Councillor before my job, and then my Yorkshire roots, became too strong. The tram system wasn’t here then, it appears I had to leave before it could get built!

 

Helping local government improve has been a priority for Government - we have increased the level of investment, matched it with reform, and local government has responded with hard work. The results show just how successful this combination has been.

 

Last month the Audit Commission released the Comprehensive Performance Assessment results for 2006. They are extremely encouraging. Once again local councils have improved their overall performance, and for the first time, no councils have been given a zero-star rating.

 

There are big improvements in many of the areas that matter to people - from the environment, to children’s services, to social care. Some councils who got poor ratings in the past have turned things around - like Hull, and North-East Lincolnshire, both of which now have two stars.

 

Local government can be proud of these results. Proud of how they are making their communities cleaner, safer, greener places to live. Because local government in many areas is now not just up to the job, but leading the way in public service reform, we can build the new relationships set out in the White Paper.

 

These new relationships are:

  • a new relationship between central and local government, and
  • a new relationship between local government, its partners and its communities. 

Implementing these will give a bigger say for local people on the issues that matter to them. It will also give greater freedom and more powers for local government to make the changes that people want to see.

 

Adopting a New Role

Sir Michael Lyons spoke about local government adopting a new role in his interim report. Having councils acting not in isolation, but in partnership with local people and other service providers like the police and NHS.

 

It means councils having the confidence to show leadership for their area, to take responsibility for the overall well-being of their communities. The White Paper reforms - and the evolution of the performance framework - will help local government pursue this role.

 

There is no doubt that local government has to continue to change if it is to face up to the challenges ahead. Because, despite progress, we know that significant challenges remain.

 

The early results of the Best Value Public Satisfaction Survey highlight some of these. Yes, there has been a slight dip in people’s overall satisfaction with their council. Nonetheless the results are still very good compared to the rest of public service, and satisfaction with some individual services is particularly high.

 

But the results also show that the more people feel informed and involved, the more satisfied they are. So the challenge is for local government to communicate its achievements better - to involve and inform people more.

 

Alongside this, local government is taking action to ensure that that people in an increasingly diverse UK can live together in tolerance, rather than tension. The interim report from the Commission on Integration and Cohesion underlined how important local action is in bringing people together from different backgrounds.

 

Or take Climate Change.  The evidence put forward from several quarters - including the UN and Sir Nicholas Stern - overwhelmingly makes the case for action to cut carbon emissions. Whether internationally, nationally or locally, we all have a job to do. Nottingham City Council deserves recognition for launching the Nottingham declaration just over a year ago.

 

The climate change issue illustrates the importance of local authorities finding ways to work together across boundaries. Other issues lending themselves to this wider perspective include economic regeneration, housing and planning. 

 

Strengthened Local Area Agreements will be at the heart of building the new relationships I mentioned earlier. In April 2005 there were only a handful of these Agreements in existence. By the end of this month, there will be an Agreement for every part of England. This is significant and down to the hard work of local authorities and their partners.

 

Appreciating the Scale

Given this progress we can move with confidence to the new system. Away from the current one that has been described as ‘too slow’ or ‘too bureaucratic’. I think that people have yet to appreciate the scale of the changes.

 

Over 1,000 national indicators boiled down to 200, with up to 35 priority targets for each area, plus statutory education and childcare targets. That’s a massive cut in central prescription.

 

There’s going to be a good and strong debate between central government, local government and its partners about what the targets for each area should be. I understand there are doubts about this, that some people are concerned that the targets will just be added on to existing layers and burdens, and won’t really make a difference. 

 

But the new Local Area Agreement will become the main vehicle for devolution. To make the most of that potential, local government should start thinking now about how it wants to use the new Agreements.

 

For example, it’s clear that if they are to be truly effective, the targets need to be based on sound evidence, and good analysis of that evidence. I know many local authorities are already pulling evidence together, working closely with their communities and other services providers. 

 

While we’re talking about cutting red tape, let me briefly mention the Lifting the Burdens Taskforce. I understand that they will be launching its second report today at the Conference. This follows on from the recent publication of their report on CLG Housing and Planning. Because these reviews come from an independent practitioner point of view, they are an important contribution to the work to reduce the burden on local government.

 

I’d like to thank Michael Frater and the Task Force for their hard work so far.

 

Involving Communities

The new performance framework means a reduction in prescription from above. It should be underpinned by pressure for improvement from the bottom up - from the grass roots, from the people most affected by local services.

 

Especially as the evidence shows that when people feel they can have a say in the services that affect them they tend to be much more satisfied with them. Which is why our reforms will enlist local citizens and communities in the drive to improve service standards - from waste to transport, from parks to libraries.

 

It is because involvement works that the Bill proposes to require all local authorities to inform, consult and involve local communities as appropriate. Because involvement works, the Bill provides for Local Involvement Networks, which will give people a bigger say on the vital health and social care services their communities need.

 

These are important steps forward. The performance framework will give greater freedom and flexibility to local authorities. This will go alongside more targeted support or intervention by central government when things go wrong.

 

I welcome the fact that poor performance in any individual council is increasingly seen as a concern for the whole local government family. More and more, local government is helping itself to improve, rather than waiting for central government to intervene. Peer review, mentoring, and Improvement Partnerships are all making a valuable contribution. Sharing lessons about issues like efficiency saving can bring benefits for all.

 

All of these points will, I believe, be important elements of the National Improvement Strategy that the government is developing together with the LGA.

 

Conclusion

I began by saying that local government has come a long way, with further to go. Local government is operating in a constantly changing context. The new performance framework I’ve spoken about today is a part of the picture.

 

Of course other work is also vital - including CSR review of governance structures and powers at the sub-national level, and the Lyons review of local government finance. Plus the bids for unitary structure that we are considering, and your hard work in recent weeks on setting budgets.

 

Local Government has put itself in the lead, and given you the opportunity to change the way things are done. We have an unprecedented chance to take local government forward in a way that will strengthen and deepen it for the future.


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