The government’s radical public sector reform programme is in danger of being stifled at birth by the dead hand of parliamentary draftsmen and civil servants firmly grounded in their traditional approach to local government.
There are several pieces of evidence to justify the assertion.
Firstly, there is a missed opportunity re the general power of competence as the Localism Bill fails to extend it to the whole of the public sector. This is essential if community-based budgets and shared services are to succeed across the whole of the public sector, not just within or between local authorities.
Secondly, the ability to charge for services is being unnecessarily restricted under the bill, as drafted. This will act to detract from the government’s stated objectives of encouraging innovation and creativity in the reform of public services delivery.
Thirdly, the rationale for limiting charges to “not exceed the cost of provision” (Clause 3 refers) with today’s harsh economic and budgetary realities facing local government becomes totally unnecessary. It is a positive affirmation of the state’s inherent desire to continue to impose controls over local government.
Fourthly, linking such innovation and creativity - however ‘limited’ under the new rules - to just a ‘company’ structure (as defined in the bill) is far too restrictive and unnecessary.
The government should, therefore, address such deficiencies. A failure to do so now will mean such unfinished business and inherent tensions in the bill will, ultimately, require even more legislative time when local authorities start applying the legislation and the courts begin to interpret the same in a restrictive manner.
- The Bar Association for Local Government & the Public Service has submitted evidence to the clerk of a select committee examining the bill - see right.
Dr Mirza Ahmad, director of governance at Birmingham City Council and chairman of the Bar Association for Local Government & the Public Service