by Eric Pickles
I wonder how many council tax payers know what’s in their local area agreement. Or how to how their council to account if they weren’t seeing results. Or indeed, how many have ever heard of a local area agreement at all. It seems likely that the only people who understood local area agreements were the poor souls who had to tick all the boxes – and of course, the councillors whose lives were made a misery by the demands of constantly conforming to rules set in Whitehall.
Local area agreements were cooked up by the last Government as a way of making it appear that they putting councillors in control. In reality of course, they did no such thing. Councils were just choosing a certain number of targets from a tightly controlled list: a bit like picking the buckles for their own straitjackets. And that’s not to mention the hundreds of other targets that were conveniently left out of the agreements, but which councils had to report on nevertheless.
The consequences have been absolutely absurd. The Total Place pilot in Leicestershire found that the councils and other public services were employing the equivalent of 90 full time staff, to the tune of 3.7 million million every year, just to tell Government what they were up to. They had to collect, process and report on more than 3000 different bits of data. They were also subject to no fewer than 83 different inspections every single year – about one every four days. For more than a decade, this has been the outcome of the command and control approach to local government. Inefficiency. Waste. Local government having to feverishly work away at targets which have been dreamed up in Whitehall, regardless of whether local people cared about them or not.
So on Wednesday, I scrapped the local area agreements: relieving councils of the burdens of reporting on 4700 targets. The years of government interference and micromanagement are over. Instead, we’re starting an era of genuine local leadership. If councils want to set themselves goals so residents know what they are working on, that’s up to them. It could actually help them in being open and transparent. This is all part of my campaign to replace the command and control approach to local government with genuine localism. I’ve put an end to regional bureaucracy, to endless inspections and hacked through much of the red tape which strangles and frustrates councillors. Instead, we’re giving councils genuine power, real responsibility, and an exciting new role: on everything from housing and planning to the local economy and the NHS.
Every council knows that there are going to be tough times ahead. But if they are going to face up to those tough times, then transparency, innovation and productivity are going to be far more important than explaining themselves to me every five minutes. Councils need the freedom and the power to make their own decisions about what’s right for their area and I’m going to make sure they get it. The time, energy and money which they would previously have spent filling in forms can now be spent where it rightly belongs: protecting public services.