Byers ushers in era of co-operation

12 Jul 01
Local Government Secretary Stephen Byers has pledged to forge a new relationship between central and local government by slashing bureaucracy and giving authorities greater financial freedom.

13 July 2001

Byers said he would cut the red tape linked to the Best Value regime and admitted that work put into preparing for inspections was affecting authorities' ability to improve services on the ground.

'It can be overly bureaucratic and it can get in the way of what it is meant to achieve,' he told Public Finance. 'I think it can be improved to allow people to focus on what really matters.'

Byers also said the current finance regime was the major issue that still needed to be addressed and councils should know it is now open for debate. He did not rule out an examination of the balance between local and central funding and added that local authorities would be given greater freedom to charge for discretionary services.

Delivering the closing speech at the Local Government Association conference in Harrogate, Byers told delegates he was examining proposals to deregulate more than 60 areas of local government, and he promised to cut down on the 70 service plans councils have to produce each year.

He indicated that the local government white paper, due to be published in the autumn, would set out ways of using local Public Service Agreements to reward high-performing councils with more freedom from Whitehall control.

'I want to explore the idea of authorities agreeing to deliver a particular range of services for a particular price to a set standard,' he said.

He also expressed hope that the white paper would be an opportunity for central and local government to negotiate a 'more adult' way of working together. 'Is there a new relationship that can be built up between the two of us?' he said.

But Byers warned that the government would not be afraid to intervene to raise standards in low-performing councils. 'We will use the powers we have to ensure that communities get the quality services they need.'

LGA chair Sir Jeremy Beecham welcomed Byers' speech as positive. 'The white paper is a vital opportunity to deliver the freedoms and flexibilities councils need to help them restore a sense of belief that people and their elected representatives can make a difference to the future of their communities.'


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