The Open Public Services White Paper covers such a wide area that it is inevitably more about the direction of travel, a statement of intent, than the details of policy. This gives plenty of opportunity for sabotage from trade unions, bureaucrats and Lib Dems who want to leave the public sector as it is. Although the White Paper does include plenty of examples of changes that have already been brought in or are already in process.
In terms of specific new stuff the Telegraph seizes on extra powers for Parish Councils noting that they will include the power to ban strip clubs.
There would also be lots of other powers for them to take over services from the principal Local Authority. The Parish Council will often be able to run services better, cheaper and with more flexibility – especially through providing an effective mechanism for volunteers to take charge.
The White Paper says:
4.7 It is already possible for principal local authorities to delegate functions to a neighbourhood council. We will consult on the scope for enabling neighbourhood councils (i.e. parish, town and community councils) to take greater control over local services. This will focus on the local public realm, leisure opportunities and community activity and could include: street improvements, parking and traffic restrictions; local libraries; local museums and arts; sports, local parks and leisure facilities; licensing of certain premises other than for the provision of alcohol; minor bye-laws and lower-level anti-social controls; and community grants. Any empowerment of neighbourhood councils to take on these services would need to fit into a local scheme of delegation, developed in consultation between the principal local authority and the proposed new neighbourhood councils. However, we will consult on how a national framework for these local schemes could assist councils at all levels to promote decentralisation of power. If neighbourhood councils take greater control of their local area, we believe that this will encourage demand for new councils in those, largely urban, areas which are not currently parished.
4.8 We know that this is an ambitious agenda – many neighbourhood councils are not used to this sort of power and many areas do not even have neighbourhood councils yet. This is a long-term vision and will be driven bottom-up by the motivation and capability of councils in different neighbourhoods. The Government will also explore how the financial framework for neighbourhood councils can be improved, to ensure that local taxpayers can have confidence that delegation of services represents good value for money. This will include examining the use of existing revenue raising and borrowing powers, accountability mechanisms, and exploring options for improving the capacity and delivery capability of neighbourhood councils.
In terms of commissioning the White Paper acknowledges this is already widespread in local government – and the central government has a lot to learn from local government in that respect.
However it adds:
The Government will consult with local authorities and the wider public sector about how to go further in opening up locally commissioned services in:
- customer contact;
- property and facilities management;
- back-office transactional services;
- family support;
- support for looked-after children;
- Commissioned services
- trading standards and environmental services; and
- housing management.