Select Committee on Transport, Local Government and the Regions Fifteenth Report

Capacity of the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister

77. A new relationship between central and local government requires new ways of working on both sides. The Committee was disappointed that the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister took the view that it could not provide information on the Office of Public Service Reform's review of its predecessor department, the DTLR. We note that the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister will be making a statement on its response to the report of the Office of Public Service Reform on the Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions[109] and recommend that this is full and frank. This will demonstrate to local government that central Government also values the benefits of external inspection and exposure of the results. It will also demonstrate that the Office is serious about making the necessary improvements.

78. We were told that the civil servant in charge of local government finance has only been in post since April 2002 and has no prior experience of local government. We also heard that the team leader post in the business rate team has been vacant since April and will not be filled until September.[110] Our Inquiry identified three areas where improvements are needed. Firstly, the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister needs to take a firmer lead within Whitehall in changing central Government's relationship with local government. In particular, the Departments of Education and Skills and Health are not doing enough to bring about the White Paper's ambitions to establish a partnership for delivering local services and to free local government from unnecessary controls.[111] Secondly, the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister needs to recognise that local government finance and non domestic rating are complex specialisms and therefore do more to retain civil servants with relevant expertise. Staff turnover, particularly at senior levels, is high. Typically staff who have built up expertise then move on to completely different areas of work. Policy formulation is weakened by a failure to learn from the past.[112] Finally, the Office needs to improve its understanding of what actually drives performance improvement in local government and consequently of how it should make the best use of "carrots and sticks" and practical support for authorities.[113]

109   Q577 Back

110   LGB45 Back

111   LGB10 and Q578 Back

112   Q291 Back

113   LGB10 Back

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Prepared 24 July 2002