Friday, May 14, 2010

Where all the money goes - part 92

I was emailed details last week for a seminar being run by LGIU, the local government information unit, cost £250+VAT or £150+VAT for member organisations (i.e. tax payer funded local authorities). The title - 'Petitions – the new duty'. It goes on:
The government has produced its statutory guidance on the new duty for councils to respond to petitions.  It comes into force on 15 June 2010, and the e-petitions requirements come into force on 15 December 2010.
The statutory guidance requires all councils to revise their handling of petitions to ensure that they meet the new duty.
This seminar will focus on key issues that authorities will need to consider in implementing the new duty and in designing and developing a petitions scheme:
Involving elected members
How petitions fit within the council’s engagement and involvement strategy and its engagement processes
Implications for overview and scrutiny
Implications for partners and co-operation
Implications for senior officers
The DCLG model scheme
Setting thresholds
Sharing knowledge and experience with each other delegates will be invited to consider how petitions and e-petitions can work.
In other words, the (thankfully now deceased) former government has discovered that people don't much like the ability of local councils to respond to their concerns, so instead of tackling the real problem - the way in which local councils are dictated to in minute detail by central government, they conclude it must be down to how local council's 'engage' their communities. People don't like what is happening, so they put together a petition. They don't like the response to the petition (usually because the Council's hand are tied), so the government placed a duty on local Councils to respond to petitions in a certain way - and as taxpayers we now all fund the training courses to teach councils how to do it.

I've no idea if this is going to be included in the strong localism agenda of the new government, but I suggest an alternative model:

Genuinely empower local Councils and local Councillors to decide what happens locally
If residents aren't happy, they can contact their Councillors, email them, petition them or use any obvious method to make their view known.
If they aren't happy with the response from their Councillors, they dump them out at the next election and replace them with Councillors that will respond to their concerns.

And we scrap the central targets, duties and controls, scrap the civil servants dreaming up these regulations, scrap the taxpayer funded courses to teach Councils about them and use the money saved to help pay off the enormous budget deficit. Efficiency saving or cuts to vital front line services? I know which category I would put this in - but I dare say Labour will still be claiming it is impossible to reduce the cost of government at all without cutting 'vital front line services'

1 comment:

Equinox said...

It's not the civil servants that dreamt up these regulations - it was the politicians. Page 5 paragraph 25 of the then Government's White Paper "Communities in Control" - or

"To make it easier to influence the agenda at a local level we will introduce a new
duty for councils to respond to petitions, ensuring that those with significant
local support are properly debated. Local authorities should respond clearly to
petitions, for example those dealing with empty properties, transferring the
ownership of a building to the community, or participatory budgeting. If people
are not satisfied with a response to a petition, they could ask for it to be debated
in full council. Councils will also act as community advocates for petitions
related to the Primary Care Trust."

All white papers have to be cleared by ministerial teams - of the department formulating them. They also have to be cleared by the Cabinet.

The point you make about the "meetings" industry is a very good one - these conferences cost a huge amount of money and I do sometimes wonder what "value for money" they offer to the taxpayer. I've attended and have delivered presentations at some of these conferences and always feel uncomfortable about the use of expensive hotels for some of these things.

It wasn't the civil servants that dreamt up the regulations. They were directed to do so by their political masters. Ironically, it will be those very same civil servants that will be tasked with repealing the decisions of previous administrations if that is what ministers in the current administration want - as is their right.