CllrBarrow2010-1277811062 Cllr Colin Barrow, the leader of Westminster City Council, outlines the extra powers that would be handed down to the Foundation Councils idea that he introduced yesterday.

Foundation councils would be given a number of additional freedoms and powers.

Power to set local fees and charges

Foundation councils would be given the freedom to set fees and charges at a sufficient level to reflect local circumstances to fully recover their costs. Take the Licensing Act 2003. The Act sets the level of fees to allow licensing authority’s recovery of their legitimate administration, inspection and enforcement costs. It didn’t give licensing authorities the freedom to set local fees at a level that would allow them to recover the real costs of implementation let alone the associated costs such as increased anti-social behaviour.

Power to generate income through freedom to trade and share services

There is confusion about the regulations governing trading and shared services which act as a barrier to local authorities wishing to generate income in this way particularly around the procurement rules surrounding the purchase of services by public bodies from local authority trading companies. It is unclear which purchases have to be competitively tendered in accordance with the EU Directives, and which purchases are excluded from these Directives.

With full freedom and clarity on how to trade and share services, local authorities could:

  • Significantly increase income by trading a number of services
  • Reduce costs through shared arrangements

Power to create local bye-laws

The management of the public realm is central to people's satisfaction with the local area, but also with their council. However, the current legislative and regulatory framework is complex and fragmented. This profusion of powers means that a single approach cannot be adopted. In other cases, the powers simply do not exist for local authorities to set local bye-laws to address matters of local concern.

Foundation Councils should be given a general power to manage the public realm without reference to specific enabling legislation. Under this approach a council would set out a Public Realm Management Plan which covers all areas of concern in the public realm, and which is enforceable within the area of a particular part of a local authority or local authorities. (For example, an ‘inner London’ public realm management area might incorporate all or part of several local authorities.) This would be created with an assumption that anything which is not against the law can be implemented. Put simply, this approach would allow local authority management of the public realm to reflect the way in which it is viewed by the public.

Freedoms from regulation

Even with the abolition of the CAA, local authorities are still hampered by the requirements of Ofsted and CQC and are controlled by Whitehall through directives, guidance and instruction on all aspects of service delivery. Through the setting of national policy and regulation central Government often requires local
authorities to carry out statutory assessments of the needs in their area in relation to national (rather than local) priorities. They then require local authorities to produce plans and write strategies on how they will implement these requirements.

Examples of such edicts are the Joint Strategic Needs Assessment, the Children and Young People’s Plan, Health Inequalities Strategies, Housing Needs Assessments and Homelessness Strategies to name but a few. Whitehall also defines who our partners should be, and what structures we are required to put in place to support them.

Foundation Councils would be exempt from having to produce and comply with these strategies, whose sole purpose appears to be proving to Whitehall that we are doing our jobs.

Power to Innovate

As can be seen above, the restrictions of regulation, targets and reporting seriously hamper local authorities being able to tailor their services to local demands and needs. We carry a huge bureaucratic burden of one-size fits all approaches aimed at poorly performing organisations. Over regulation, that is, regulating where it is not necessary, stifles innovation. Foundation Councils should be granted ‘exclusion zones’ where they would be exempt from inspection and statutory assessments of need to allow them to innovate.

Central government would focus on expenditure, value for money and core safeguarding duties, while local councillors would be empowered to undertake the local needs assessments they judge to be valuable, monitor the effectiveness of service delivery and be accountable to their local communities for this. This Power to Innovate would not be purely around regulation however. It would enable local authorities with a strong case for a different local service delivery model to put the case to central Government, and for there to be a presumption that central Government would formally consider the proposal.

The Power to Innovate would extend to the power to work up, either in consultation with local partners or alone, new approaches to delivering local services. Over the next few days I will detail a number of such specific proposals where we believe councils could play a key role in tackling a number of key challenges.

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