White paper set to disappoint

6 Dec 01
Labour's second local government white paper, to be unveiled next week, looks set to leave councils disappointed and frustrated.

07 December 2001

With local authorities impatient for decisive reforms to modernise finance regimes, the government is expected to announce only a modest package that seeks to cement previous Labour policies.

Among the changes due to be announced by local government minister Nick Raynsford on December 12 will be a commitment to allow councils to buy and sell services from each other – already outlined in the 1999 Best Value Act – and a promise of fewer central government directives.

A more focused Best Value inspection regime will also be announced with the establishment of a new agency to push through modernisation.

Privately, the watered down paper has prompted fears that ministers have run out of ideas, as well as again losing out to the Treasury in securing new financial freedoms.

One critic accused the government of 'fudging' the big issues. Another claimed that ministers are divided on what to include in the paper.

The white paper is expected to outline a more flexible approach to the government's relationship with local authorities, giving successful councils more freedoms, a long-established commitment of ministers.

New Local Public Service Agreements signed up to by both central government and the Local Government Association and covering approximately half-a-dozen key policy areas could also be unveiled.

However, there appears to be little movement on the crucial issue of tax-raising powers for councils. Instead, a further review into revenue-raising by local authorities, to be chaired by Raynsford, is the best that councils can hope for.

This is likely to disappoint many, including the LGA, who see a link between the declining interest in local government and its lack of financial powers.

The government's commitment to bringing in the prudential borrowing system will be re-affirmed.

A controversial system of banding councils – failing, coasting, striving and high-performing – will also be announced.

Ines Newman, head of policy at the Local Government Information Unit, said this approach was flawed. 'I don't think there is one council that is failing at everything and one that is successful at everything.'


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