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Glyn Gaskarth welcomes the Government review of council's stutory duties and urges them to scrap those that are non-essential

In March 2010 I blogged on this site asking for a Government review of the statutory duties of local authorities. Statutory duties are those actions a public body must do, not those it can choose whether to do. Today the Government has announced that it is going to compile a list of the statutory duties on Local Government. I don’t envy them, it is a thankless task, but I welcome their adoption of this policy.

Local authority statutory duties are a maze of hundreds of years of Government legislation and a review of these duties is well overdue. DCLG are “seeking comments – to help fill in the gaps.” You can contribute to the consultation at burdens@communities.gsi.gov.uk from now until 25 April 2011. The Government explain their purpose as to develop a “more informed view of those areas where these duties may no longer be required.” If you have come across a statutory duty which you believe to be too onerous or out-dated please inform DCLG now.

The DCLG document Cross-Whitehall review of statutory duties: Q&A explains the reason why we don’t currently have a central list of Local Government Statutory Responsibilities. It says DCLG “does not have policy responsibility for all the functions local authorities are currently required to deliver.” It is fair to note that policy responsibilities are often transferred between Departments and Departments other than DCLG have placed responsibilities on local authorities. Fifteen Government Departments are feeding information into this Review. Two spreadsheets reveal the results of the DCLG audit of duties for which their Department is responsible and a “composite of other Government Department data.”

Councils could begin their response by reviewing some of the duties listed by the respective Departments in these spreadsheets and the DCLG Q&A document. They could then list the other duties they know they have a legal requirement to perform and give their assessment of them.

This step marks the beginning of a process. My original blog featured seven policy recommendations for Central Government. The Government appears to be implementing two of my recommendations, which were to “order an immediate audit of all the statutory duties imposed on local authorities” and to “Catalogue and review all local authorities’ statutory duties to assess if each is still relevant and necessary.”

We need to pressure them to follow through with the other five recommendations, which were to:

  • Abolish all non-essential statutory duties in a bonfire of the controls imposed on local authorities.
  • Create a new statutory duty on Central Government to list all the duties of local authorities in one place (a website) accessible to the public.
  • Create a new statutory duty on Central Government to provide a full publicly available regulatory impact assessment of the costs of each new statutory duty they propose to require local authorities to implement.
  • Create a new statutory duty on Central Government to provide full funding to local authorities in accordance with the estimated costs of each new statutory duty imposed. There should be no more
    unfunded legal requirements for local authorities to act.
  • Create a new statutory duty on Central Government (following the completion of the measures stipulated above) to include a compulsory sunset clause on all new statutory duties to ensure they
    are reviewed at periodic five year intervals.

It may seem strange to argue for the creation of four new statutory duties given my general opposition to the massive expansion in such duties but we need to ensure that this spring cleaning of Central Government regulation of Local Government is not a unique event. A new era of transparency should mean that we assess the full costs of every Central Government Regulation passed and keep that figure under
review.

Every councillor must be able to find out, easily, exactly what the council is legally required to do. The public must be able to access such information in a clear and accessible format. We should constantly be asking ourselves if each regulation is necessary and if the law’s requirements can be met by less bureaucratic means.

The Governments adoption of the policy I earlier outlined is welcome (I would say that wouldn’t I). But this should be merely the beginning. Getting rid of burdensome regulations by past administrations is a very important first step but desisting from imposing fresh statutory duties on local authorities and committing to producing a regularly updated list of such duties, which is under constant review, is the real prize.  The Government are headed in the right direction and should stay the course.

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