Monday, 18 April 2011

Pickles offers "social responsibility deal for town halls"

In a move heralded by Secretary of State for Communities Eric Pickles as action to boost support for voluntary sector and cut red tape for councils, the government indicated its intention to withdraw the previous government's 56 page statutory best value guidance "Creating Strong, Safe and Prosperous Communities" and replace it with a single page directive.

The new guidance will say that authorities should seek to avoid passing on disproportionate cuts to the voluntary sector, give at least three months notice if they are intending to end or reduce funding to a community organisation and allow groups to put forward their own suggestions for how to reshape a service.

Pickles is delivering on the threat he made in March to use statutory force "to make sure that voluntary groups are getting a fair crack at the whip".

The new guidance will reiterate the duty imposed by the Local Government Act 1999 to consult a wide range of local persons, including local voluntary and community organisations and businesses in deciding how to secure continuous improvement to the way it fulfils its functions. The current guidance includes a more wide-ranging statutory "Duty to Involve".
The consultation period will be three weeks short of the standard 12 weeks, ending 14 June 2011. This is justified by the need for "swift action in light of near-term local budgetary decisions".

Pickles said:
"I'm offering a social responsibility deal for town halls: I'm tearing up the unreasonable Whitehall red tape that costs them money and wastes their time. In return, local councils should treat local community groups with the full respect they deserve.

"I'm not asking councils to do anything that I wouldn't do myself, so all central government departments are also signing up to these fair new standards."
Whilst the move has generally been welcomed by the voluntary sector, some commentators, such as Professor of Public Policy and Management at Manchester Business School Colin Talbot, argue that it is a mistake to revoke the Duty to Involve, and contrary to the Government’s stated aim to stimulate a culture of citizen participation.

1 comment:

  1. John Houghton, who was formerly the official responsible for community empowerment policy in DCLG, has written a thoughtful piece in New Start about the abolition of the Duty to Involve. He says "Community involvement will become an ‘optional extra’ all over again: a frilly add-on to ‘official’ decision making processes, when it needs to be treated as a fundamental element of good policy making and implementation."

    Houghton concludes his article "For all its faults, the duty turned community involvement from an optional extra into a core business process: not a frilly nicety but a basic requirement in the way that councils do their work. For that reason alone, the government should think long and hard about the implications or repeal for its own policy goals."


We welcome comment on CoalitionWatch, especially from HouseMark members. Comments are reviewed and approved as quickly as possible, but please don't resubmit your comment because it doesn't appear straight away.

Read our comments policy for more information.