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As the Innovation Forum turns its attention to the prospect of local strategic partnerships with teeth, many in loc...
As the Innovation Forum turns its attention to the prospect of local strategic partnerships with teeth, many in local government are beginning to question whether the forum itself has any bite.

Launched in a blaze of publicity last spring (LGC, 15 May), the forum was billed by the ODPM as an opportunity for the government to work with top councils to develop new ways of delivering public services.

Since then, the 22 councils involved have been discussing with ministers the possibilities for joint working in four key areas - health, education, safer communities and public service integration.

Now a fifth project has been set up to look at putting local government in charge of new, integrated, more powerful LSPs. These partnerships would place councils in the driving seat in terms of local delivery of national public service agreements.

The forum gives top councils an unprecedented opportunity to show what they could do if freed from central shackles and, more importantly, the ministerial access they need to make it happen.

So why, six months on, is there no real progress to report on?

Significantly, one of the forum councils has privately expressed its reluctance to publicise one project, realising that unless the government plays ball the project will never see the light of day.

It is difficult to divorce this pessimism from the general climate of unease surrounding the central/local relationship.

Fuelling this crisis of faith is the perception that the government is deliberately dragging its feet on delivering the freedoms and flexibilities it said it would reward good performance with.

The warning from local government minister Nick Raynsford that even 'good' and 'excellent' councils could find themselves capped cuts even deeper into the fragile trust between councils and the centre.

When it comes to developing that trust, actions speak louder than words - and no amount of verbiage from the forum can disguise the anger felt by councils over the government's failure to deliver on its part of the bargain.

The vision of beefed-up LSPs, alongside Kent CC's proposals on reducing hospital admissions and Camden LBC's work on community safety, show there is no shortage of intelligent innovation in local government.

But unless the government starts cutting councils enough slack to turn these ideas into reality, the forum risks becoming the biggest wasted opportunity in the history of central/local relations.

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