Draft Local Government (Organisation and Standards) Bill Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence - First Report


Memorandum by The Capita Group plc

  1.  The Capita Group plc, which is one of the largest private sector companies providing a range of support services to local government, welcomes this opportunity to submit written evidence to the Joint Parliamentary Committee.

  2.  Over 45 per cent of Capita's business is local government related and we have a strong interest in effective and responsive local government. We see ourselves as the partner of local government.

  3.  Last year Capita submitted written and oral evidence to the House of Commons Committee's enquiry in to the Best Value framework. In this evidence we stated our strong commitment to the aims and objectives of the Government's "modernisation" programme and in particular to the proposals set out in the Government's White Paper—"Modern Local Government—In Touch with the People". This commitment remains.

  4.  Capita was pleased that the Government introduced the Local Government (Best Value and Capping) Bill and that this will receive Royal Assent this summer. We believe that the proposals in the draft consultation Bill will augment the requirements of the initial Bill/Act . They have to be taken together along with the proposals for "Modern Government" set out in the Government's White Paper published earlier this year.

  5.  As we stated in the evidence to the House of Commons Select Committee, the modernisation programme has to secure:

    —  the social, economic and environmental well being of the community;

    —  enhanced democratic accountability and legitimacy;

    —  continuous improvement in the quality of services;

    —  investment for change and improvement;

    —  partnerships between public sector agencies and between them and the private and voluntary sectors;

    —  integrated services from all public sector agencies and others which meet the needs of the customer and forgetting any historic preciousness of those agencies.

  6.  The Capita Group plc is generally supportive of the proposals in the draft consultation Bill. It wishes to contribute to the achievement of these proposals and the wider modernisation programme. It is in dialogue with local authorities and Government about the possibilities. It is demonstrating the commitment and its contribution through practical action delivered through partnerships. It is our experienced that it is easier to develop negotiate effective partnerships, it is our experience that it is easier to develop and negotiate effective leading edge and leading edge partnerships which result in service improvement where the council has a strong leader and effective Chief Executive. It helps if the leader is able to commit the council and to have control over his/her group. We have examples of negotiations being held back or failing because the pressures of internal politics on council leaders and senior officers. When this happens, the losers are the public—the service users and the council tax payers and often actually the staff. All too often, the public is unaware of what is happening—there is little public access to information; accountability; or member scrutiny on behalf of the customer and the community. This in turn reduces the legitimacy of local government. It undermines the community leadership role and is inconsistent with Best Value.

  7.  The modernisation programme can only become reality if the private sector plays a major role in its shaping, development and implementation. Private sector companies should be offered the opportunity to be consulted at central and local government levels on the details of policy and service development so that they can draw from their experience and practical understanding of service development and delivery. This facility and requirement needs to be included in the Local Government Bill which we hope will be introduced into Parliament later this year.

  8.  We wish to see:

    —  the realisation of Best Value based on challenge, consultation, comparison, competition to be the best and to secure effective procurement, and collaboration;

    —  performance planning linked to quality improvement, the achievement of value for money and greater democratic accountability—with monthly performance reports on key areas of a council's responsibilities made accessible to the public so that local elections are about the performance of the council;

    —  testing for partnership arrangements and modern procurement practice in the regular council audits and Best Value inspections—to ensure that the councils are demonstrating that they are achieving Best Value for their communities;

    —  more imaginative partnerships between the private and public sectors—to secure the best service delivery through investment for the lowest cost consistent with the quality standards required;

    —  a renewed democratic legitimacy for local government—we want to be dealing with organisations which can demonstrate that they speak for their communities and have the endorsement of those communities—this is difficult to argue when electoral turnout is below 30 per cent;

    —  defined roles and responsibilities for elected members and for council officers so that any confusion between policy and management is avoided.

  9.  The achievement of the above requires:

    —  strong visionary political leadership which can champion the community and customer rather than be concerned with internal political group tactics, and provider and institutional interests;

    —  effective, visionary and strong management leadership in local authorities;

    —  political scrutiny to challenge performance and approach in order to secure better services;

    —  new election arrangements and electoral reform to encourage and facilitate local government voting and electoral impact;

    —  forums to ensure that local businesses and business partners of councils are involved in the process of decision making through consultative mechanisms;

    —  progressive guidance and regulations as well as incentives from the Government to encourage councils to explore modern procurement and partnership opportunities.

  10.  We recognise that some of these are outside the remit of this draft Bill but we would hope that the Committee and Government would address them.

  11.  In respect of the proposals in the draft consultation Bill, we would support:

    —  the introduction of elected mayors or their equivalent for all tiers and size of councils—we are not convinced that only large metropolitan communities would benefit from this kind of democratic leadership;

    —  where there are no mayors, the indirectly elected council leaders should have similar authority and opportunities as majors to set the strategic leadership of the council;

    —  mayors and leaders with delegated authority and accountabilities to councils and the community for developing partnerships;

    —  where there are leaders with cabinets, similar powers to delegate and to ensure high visible leadership and action;

    —  councillors not directly involved in leadership/cabinet roles concentrating on representing the community and the customers and on scrutiny—holding the leadership to account publicly;

    —  external challenges to councils to test their effectiveness;

    —  the involvement of businesses in the local community and which are in partnership with a council in the decision as to whether or not to pursue the elected mayor option;

    —  either mandatory referenda or lower thresholds for the popular calling of referenda on political management arrangements;

    —  the mechanisms to ensure that elected mayors and/or council leaders have the opportunity to pursue the interests of the community, the customer and the local tax payer without the hindrance of party politics on a day to day basis (eg—not having to refer all matters for group approval) or over concern for the internal interests of the council when this suppresses the needs of the community and customer;

    —  arrangements which would attract high calibre mayors/leaders and councillors including new means by which business and private sector managers/staff would be able to contribute to their local communities;

    —  the ability to co-opt non-councillors onto cabinets including people with professional, community and business expertise;

    —  similar powers of co-option in respect of scrutiny committees;

    —  speedier council decision making which matches the private sector's approach which would strengthen partnerships and the ability of councils to establish partnerships and contracts to enhance the quality of services;

    —  linking performance planning with monthly published key results to strengthen democratic accountability with comparisons with the best in the public and private sector available to the public in accessible form too;

    —  encouragement to and incentives for authorities to think beyond their own boxes and to consider pooling resources with others and jointly commissioning;

    —  the use of the annual audit and Best Value inspections to strengthen the transparency of local councils and thus democratic accountability;

    —  enhanced public access to services and understandable information about services and the council performance;

    —  councillor competency development and appraisal to ensure enhanced performance in the representative and executive roles of councillors;

    —  electronic voting including the use of e-mail and telephone technology with targets for individual authorities—these will be best achieved when elections are about local performance—planned and actual—and not "popular votes" on national parties;

    —  a requirement that councils consult and involve local businesses and their private sector partners in the development of policy and review, monitoring and scrutiny—with a voluntary protocol which would encourage private sector firms to give evidence to council scrutiny committees;

    —  the introduction of a general duty of promoting the economic, social and environmental well being of communities for councils—with the introduction perhaps linked to Beacon Status and the realisation of pre-set modernisation standards—this would ease public private partnerships including the transfer of resources and the participation of third parties such as health services.

  12.  We also recognise that there will need to be stronger probity standards and procedures to provide public confidence in the new private—public partnerships and modern procurement. We welcome the proposals set out in the draft consultation Bill but would recommend that consideration be given to developing the detailed guidance in conjunction with the development of the guidance and regulations to support Best Value. The experienced private sector practitioners should be involved in the development of the detailed guidance and regulations on probity of modern local government so that these enable the modernisation programme to proceed whilst ensuring the highest possible probity standards.

  13.  Looking to the future it is important to consider the technological, political, demographic and economic changes which will emerge over the next ten years. This means that there may be greater diversity of local governance; new forms of service delivery; business involvement in new ways through goverenance as well as service delivery; a European dimension; new relations between European, central, regional and local governance; and much greater community and public involvement. This requires more "joined up" government and greater involvement by the private sector in a re-invigorated local government with strong, decisive and accountable leadership re-connected to the public. The Bill should reflect the proposals set out in the "modernising Government" White Paper.

  14.  Therefore, the Capita Group plc welcomes the draft consultation Bill and believes that it could be enhanced based on the proposals in this memorandum. We should like to see its early enactment.

7 July 1999

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