Local politicians and council officers operate within a governance framework of checks and balances to ensure that local authorities’ decision-making is lawful, informed by objective advice, transparent and consultative. Some parts of local governance are locally defined, but core components of the statutory framework of legal duties and financial controls are overseen by the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government (the Department). The Department is responsible for: ensuring that this framework contains the right checks and balances, and changing the system if necessary. The Secretary of State also has powers to intervene in cases of perceived governance failure. The framework includes: officers with statutory powers and responsibilities; internal checks and balances such as audit committees and internal audit; and external checks and balances such as external audit and sector-led improvement overseen by the Local Government Association. These arrangements represent a significant reduction in the level of central oversight in recent years following the government’s decision to abolish the Audit Commission and the Standards Board for England as part of a broader reform of local audit, inspection and reporting. The new, more localised framework has had to function effectively at a time when the process of governance itself is more challenging and complex because of new arrangements such as shared services, outsourcing and commercial activities. Reduced resources mean that delivery of change programmes and dealing with financial pressures can be crucial to the financial viability of an authority. This makes the implications of governance failure more significant.
Published: 15 May 2019