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ACCOUNTABILITY IS KEY TO DEMOCRACY - STEWART AT CIPFA

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Extracts from a speech with the theme Shaping the Future by Mr Allan Stewart MP, Minister for Local Government, at ...
Extracts from a speech with the theme Shaping the Future by Mr Allan Stewart MP, Minister for Local Government, at the 1994 Conference of the Scottish Branch of CIPFA (Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy) at Gleneagles Hotel at 1400 hours on Friday, April 8

'In recent years, not least because of the impetus of CCT legislation, many local authorities have increasingly found more efficiency and effectiveness by shopping around for alternatives to direct provision of services.

The Local Government etc (Scotland) Bill is very much running with this particular tide.'This is truly the vision of the perhaps over-used term, the enabling authority. It is not a political imperative upon authorities to go out and purchase services, but it is an encouragement to them to try out new and possibly more effective means of service delivery.

'Co-operation between authorities or the purchase of services from the private sector can and does offer substantial benefits to local taxpayers and for that reason alone should be high on the agenda of every one of the proposed new authorities.

'The real taskfor local authorities is in setting priorities, determining standards of service, and finding the best ways to meet them. Across Britain many authorities have recognised the limitations of in-house provisionand the advantages of the private and voluntary sectors in the provision of services.

Authorities should be prepared to think radically not only about who provides the servicefrom them, but about the status of directly employed staff. Both now, at reorganisation, and on a continuing basis thereafter. In order to retain, and indeed enhance, the success of theseorganisations the place for them to operate is as private companies inthe private sector.

'This is where their management talents canrealise the full potential of the organisation competing both for localauthority contracts and in the wider market. Regional authorities for instance should consider carefullywhether it is in the best interests of their staff to see thesestructures dismantled or whether they should discuss with their staffoptions such as management buy outs.

'Where staff are interested inthese options and the opportunities they provide it would be theheight of dogma for authorities to refuse to consider them. A management buy-out would create a locally based centre foremployment growth capable of competing in the private sector andallowing successor authorities to take advantage of these experiencedplayers in the local authority market. And of course it would notprevent them from setting up their own direct service organisationsif they chose. Indeed, a management buy-out would enhance choicefor successor authorities by allowing them the option of a privatesector provider experienced in the local authority market. '

'Accountability is the real key. Accountability is what true emocracy in local government is about. And without the disciplineof accountability, service delivery can become complacent and lose itscompetitive edge.'ENDs

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