18 June 2004
The government is to draw up a ten-year strategy for local government that will herald a 'new settlement' of the relationship between town halls and Whitehall.
A Cabinet committee chaired by Nick Raynsford has been set up to oversee the strategy, which is intended to resolve long-standing tensions between central and local government over their respective responsibilities and accountability.
There is increasing recognition from the government that there is no coherent approach towards local government across central departments, and that one is needed if ambitious public service reforms are to be successful.
An official at the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister told Public Finance that the emphasis of the strategy would be on 'coherence rather than uniformity'.
A pamphlet, published on June 16, highlights the key issues that ministers want to consider over the coming months.
These include the future of performance management and, within that, the role of Local Public Service Agreements. The conclusions reached will reveal the extent of ministers' commitment to so-called new localism.
It will show whether the government will countenance giving authorities the freedom to decide how to meet a few key national performance targets.
It will also seek to address which tier of government should be responsible for individual services, opening the way for a resolution to the long-running debate over whether schools should be brought under direct Whitehall control. The findings of the ongoing Balance of Funding review will also be fed in.
In July, the ODPM will publish a 'direction of travel' document, followed by policy papers on specific issues. It hopes to have an agreed framework ready for publication by early next year, possibly as a white paper.
Phil Swann, director of strategy at the Local Government Association, welcomed the initiative. 'We support the idea of central government developing a more coherent set of policies for local government. We want to work with the ODPM to develop a cross-government strategy, but the proof of the pudding will be in the eating.'