Councils should form local public accounts committees, says report

27 Feb 18

Councils should hold to account all agencies, suppliers and voluntary bodies that provide public services in their area.

This call comes from the Association for Public Service Excellence (APSE) after research conducted for it by the Local Governance Research Unit at De Montfort University.

The researchers’ report, Bringing Order to Chaos, said local public accounts committees should be formed by councils, with the same statutory powers over external providers as local authorities already have for scrutiny of the NHS.

It said accountability processes were needed for all arms-length bodies created by a council, so that these were open to challenge by councillors.

Councils would produce a local governance framework identifying all organisations with which they interact and giving a shared vision of the development of public services across the area.

External bodies would be under a legal requirement to engage with local government when developing policy and taking decisions about public services.

Lead report author Professor Colin Copus said: “The often chaotic network of public, private and third sector organisations responsible for public service provision means it is now vital that local government is able to hold these organisations to account". 

APSE chief executive Paul O'Brien said: “Too often we witness agencies acting in ways which can undermine the needs of local areas.

“By giving councils a much broader role in pulling together disparate local actors we can start to enhance joined up public policy outcomes.” 

The report also recommended that each council should appoint one councillor as ‘accountability champion’, who would ensure councillors had adequate opportunities to question, challenge, seek justification from and engage with external public service providers, including at the procurement or commissioning stages. 

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