Council leaders sceptical of ‘Big Society’
Johnstone | 12 October 2011
of councils do not think that local communities will be able to take over the
running of public services, despite the government’s Big Society ambitions.
In a survey of council
leaders, chief executives, Cabinet members and policy heads, 64% of respondents
said they believed the capacity of the community sector to manage services or
assets was ‘low’ or ‘very low’. The survey, published by the Local Government
Information Unit and insurer Zurich, covered 82 English councils.
Only one in five
of respondents had formally assessed the community’s appetite for more
involvement, despite government plans to give charities, social enterprises and
voluntary organisations a greater role in the provision of community services.
As part of the
Big Society plans, local people will be able to use a ‘community right to buy’
to take over any council services threatened with closure, from libraries to
leisure centres. Voluntary groups will also be able to bid for more services
under reforms proposed in the Open public
services white paper.
might be too risk-averse to allow community groups to take on services, the
survey finds. Almost all of those surveyed – 99% – said that they did not have
a risk strategy that would allow for greater community involvement in services.
services was the area where councils were most risk averse. More than
two-fifths (41%) said that they were ‘unlikely to take any risks’ in this
sector. Almost a third (29%) reported the same level of precaution for adult
social care services.
The report warns
that by continuing to avoid risk, councils could miss the chance to create better
services and save money. It calls for councils to adopt a strategic approach to
risk that embraces community involvement.
should establish a scrutiny panel dedicated to corporate risk management and
assess the risk appetitefor services
across the council, the report recommends. This would determine which areas are
most appropriate for community involvement.
also be developing a strategy for managing the implications of the community ‘right
to buy’ and ‘right to challenge’ provisions that will be given to communities
as part of the government’s Localism Bill.
Carr-West, policy director at LGiU, said: ‘The combination of pressure on the
public finances and long-term societal, economic and demographic changes means
that we cannot continue to deliver public services in the same old way.
‘These are not
challenges we can opt out of, and we need real innovation. In this context,
risk avoidance may be the riskiest thing of all.’
Andrew Jepp, public
services director at Zurich Municipal, added: ‘The report clearly demonstrates
that councils must re-evaluate their risk management strategies if they are to
deal effectively with the new landscape of public service delivery presented by
the Localism Bill.’