Select Committee on Transport, Local Government and the Regions Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence

Supplementary memorandum by Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions (LGA 22(b))

Evaluation contract and the milestones to be used in assessing the success or failure of the Act (Q146)

  A large-scale programme of long-term policy evaluations is being put in place right across the Local Government Modernisation Agenda. Evaluation has a key role to play in determining whether individual policy elements of the modernisation agenda are being delivered in the way intended, and how they might be fine-tuned to increase their effectiveness. It will also provide detailed information about the medium long-term impacts of each of these policies. To date, evaluations have been commissioned on: Best Value, Local Strategic Partnerships, new council constitutions and ethical framework, the Beacon Councils scheme, Asset Management Plans and Capital Strategies and the implementation of electronic government.

  In relation to the research on Parts II and III of the Act, this is a five-year study with a final report in spring 2007. There will be other reports at key stages throughout the project and opportunities to request issue papers on specific aspects of policy. Before evaluating the impact of the legislation, the research team will develop a framework for analysis. The need for a clear framework reflects the importance of robust measures of achievement for a number of policy objectives, such as improved transparency, accountability, efficiency in new council constitutions and improved clarity and trust through standards arrangements. We will need to ensure the measures developed are valid, in that they actually measure what they are intended to measure, and are given appropriate weight in the overall evaluation.

  There will also be a five-year research programme to support Local Strategic Partnership intended to help practitioners, advisers and policy-makers at local, regional and central levels. The project will disseminate findings and good practice guidance materials. They will be issued on paper and through websites (IDeA Knowledge and NRU Knowledge Management System). Government Offices will participate in learning and dissemination activities. Quarterly research updates will be e-mailed to a wide stakeholder network.

  A hard copy of the main research specifications follows by hand.

  Individual evaluations will not provide a picture of the cumulative impact of the modernisation agenda as a whole. The Department has, therefore, been developing an overarching evaluation. A feasibility report, drawing upon discussions with a range of interested parties, has been produced in order to take this forward and can be found at: on the Department's website. The Department is currently in the process of tendering and commissioning a research organisation to undertake this more generic evaluation.

Examples of occasions where councils have used their well-being power (Q154)

  I fear we have difficulty in providing specific examples of uses of the power in the sense of pointing to concrete examples of things done which could not previously have been done. One reason for the difficulty is that the power is so broad. Councils may see it as a power of first resort. To identify just how specific actions go beyond previous vires would mean reconciling each activity with the specific powers in place before the Local Government Act 2000. This is not something we had set out to monitor, partly because it would require detailed access which we do not have to councils' internal legal advice.

  There is evidence that local authorities have a good level of awareness about the well-being power. A Local Government Association survey in autumn 2001 "Follow the Leaders" found that, of the 67 per cent of English and Welsh authorities which responded, 63 per cent of authorities have provided briefings for members on the well-being power.

  One purpose of the power is to support the efforts of councils and their partners to work more closely together on Local Strategic Partnerships and other initiatives, for example by providing councils with powers to make agreements with any partners or co-ordinate activities, or to work across boundaries. The well-being power will also enable local authorities to participate in companies, trusts or charities. These extensions or vires are important, for example, to partnership working with the health sector. Since most local authorities are not coterminous with health authorities, the power provides opportunities for action between neighbouring health and local authorities, without worrying about where particular clients live or what spending goes to which area. It also enables joint action to protect the well-being and health of communities at risk from environmental pollution, crime, economic decline or health hazards when these communities reside across authorities' boundaries.

Why farmers have an exemption from the declaration of interest in codes of conduct for National Parks but no other groups are given exemptions, for example in Parish Councils (Q167)

  Each code contains some general dispensations which enable a member to take part in discussions where he or she might otherwise be considered to have a prejudicial interest. The national parks and broads code contains two such "exemptions", to cover farmers and navigators. That is because farmers may own land in a park area, or, in the case of the Broads, navigation appointees may own boat companies. It would be odd to appoint people because of their expertise on a subject and then say that their expertise then ruled them out because it prejudiced their view of the public interest. The dispensations therefore allow those with farming and navigation backgrounds to participate in general discussions, as long as they declare their interest where it has a bearing on specific business. Furthermore it would also require them to withdraw if the discussion related particularly to any employment or business carried on, or land owned by the member, a relative or friend.


Q.  Some local authorities have received counsel's opinion stating that they cannot use the new power to promote well-being without having a community strategy in place. Is this advice correct and how does it fit with the DTLR guidance that says they can?

  Interpretation and advice on law is ultimately for the courts, and local authorities' own legal advice. Subject to that, our view is that, within the context of Local Government Act 2000, there is no requirement to have a community strategy before the power to promote well-being can be used. We have discussed the issue with the Local Government Association, and their opinion is the same.

  It was said during Parliamentary proceedings that the provision requiring a local authority to have regard to its strategy was in no way meant to limit the ability of local authorities to take action under section 2(1). The statutory guidance reaffirms this position; paragraph 25 states that:

    "Where a local authority does not yet have its community strategy in place, it is not prevented from exercising the power to promote well being".

Q.  How many local authorities currently have a local strategic partnership in place?

  Last year, a Local Government Association (LGA) survey indicated that all local authorities expected to have an LSP covering their area by April this year. However, given that not all LAs responded to that survey, there may well still be some places where LSPs do not yet exist.

  More comprehensive research is being carried out on behalf of DTLR this summer to update the picture. We will place a copy of the findings of the survey in the House of Commons Library.

  It is also worth noting that guidance is not prescriptive about the area that an LSP may cover, or about how LAs combine to work jointly. Not every local authority necessarily has its own LSP. For example, in Northamptonshire, the county is working through the districts' LSPs. In West Cornwall, two district councils have formed one LSP.

Q.  What proportion of LSPs are currently led by the local authority? What proportion do you envisage being local authority led by the end of the year?

  It's a moot point whether a partnership-based structure such as an LSP can be said to be "led" by any one body, as it is for local partners themselves to decide who should chair an LSP and how it should be resourced and organised. Different bodies may "lead" on different issues.

  The bar chart below, taken from a survey undertaken by the LGA last year, suggests which bodies chair and provide financial and secretarial support for LSPs. It suggests that at the time of the survey, respondents were saying that about half were engaged in LSPs chaired by their own authority, and two-thirds in LSPs for which their own authority provided secretarial support. In 10 per cent of cases the chair came from another local authority, in 14 per cent the chair rotated and in other cases came from another public body (6 per cent), the private sector (6 per cent), a voluntary or community sector organisation (8 per cent) or was joint or not known. LSPs are evolving fast, and this information will be updated as part of the research being undertaken for DTLR this summer.

  It would not be appropriate for us to take a view on how many LSPs may be local authority "led" by the end of this year, as it will be a matter for local partners to determine. However, last year's Local Government White Paper set out the Government's position on the role of councils on LSPs as follows:

    "Council's role on local strategic partnerships

    2.35  Councils have a particular responsibility towards LSPs. Our recent guidance reflects this. We look to councils to be the prime movers in instigating LSPs where they do not already exist and in guiding them through their early stages. Once LSPs have been set up the partnerships themselves should decide who leads. As many as one in four LSPs are chaired by partners other than the local authority. This is in keeping with our non-prescriptive approach. That does not mean that once an LSP has been established a local authority's leadership role has ceased. Irrespective of who chairs an LSP, someone needs to take responsibility and be accountable for ensuring that:

      —  the membership and methods of consultation and engagement are balanced and inclusive;

      —  difficult decisions are addressed and resolved, not just the easy ones. Those decisions should not simply represent the "lowest common denominator"; and

      —  the partners properly resource and support the LSP.

    2.36  In one sense these responsibilities are shared by all partners. But someone needs to step forward and take a lead on these issues if others are failing to do so. This is a key part of every council's responsibility as the community leader."

Q.  The guidance requires local authorities to have similar levels of openness to other authorities of a similar type and size. How do you monitor this and to what extent are such arrangements now in place?

  Currently there is no mechanism for monitoring such arrangements centrally. The Government believes that authorities are best placed to ensure that they are taking the guidance into account.

  As part of a review of access to information during 2002 the Department will be consulting with local authorities to establish best practice in defining key decisions. There is also a possibility that comparisons between authorities will be included in longer term evaluation research described above.

A D Whetnall

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