Three quarters of local authorities now have area committees or forums in
place to give local people a say on matters closer to home, new research
from the Local Government Association shows.
And the association warns that any government moves to bolster neighbourhood
governance must build on the success of existing arrangements rather than
replacing them with imposed solutions.
The LGA research also found that 26 per cent of councils have area
committees with powers to make decisions on local matters. Of these, 83 per
cent said they had successfully involved local people and 84 per cent
believed they have helped to improve the effectiveness of decision-making in
The interim research findings, which will be presented by LGA chief
executive Brian Briscoe at the third in the association's series of
Smith Square Debates this evening(1), are taken from an
LGA research project on devolution beyond the town hall due to be published
At the event, Sir Brian will say: 'Whatever their feelings for their town,
city or county, most people care most about their immediate neighbourhood
and, rightly, expect more of a say in what happens in it.
'The LGA believes revitalising community participation is not an optional
extra for the future of local government, but an essential part of the
agenda. We are calling for the devolution of power from Whitehall to local
communities - but we are equally clear that devolution should not stop at
the town hall.
'The government recently trailed the idea of a new tier of governance at
neighbourhood level(2). It would be foolish to progress further along this
path without evaluating the strengths of what already exists in the form of
parish, town and community councils and bodies such as area committees.
'Our research shows that three quarters of councils already have area-based
arrangements in place for engaging communities in local decision-making,
many with devolved powers to shape the face of their local area. But our
research also shows that one size doesn't fit all, and structures are less
important than community buy-in and the flexibility to respond to local
'If the government is serious about devolving power to town halls and
beyond, it must build on the pioneering work local authorities are doing in
their own communities. Imposing a centralist blueprint could stifle local
democratic arrangements rather than helping them to thrive.'
1. The full programme for the debate on Thursday 17 June is:
How can we shape the future of citizen participation? Which political
structures best engage people in governing their local communities?
5.30pm: Registration, tea & coffee
6.00pm - 7.30 pm: Debate chaired by Jeremy Beecham, LGA chair
Speakers: Dan Corry, executive director, New Local Government Network; Ben
Page, director, MORI Local Government Research Unit; Brian Briscoe,
chief executive, Local Government Association
7.30pm: Drinks reception
Direct elections to NHS foundation trusts and police authorities have been
proposed as a way of strengthening local accountability and putting
communities in control of public services. But will the creation of
single-purpose elected bodies lead to a fragmentation of local services? Or
is this just a knee-jerk reaction by politicians who fear losing their local
monopoly? And do local people want to participate more anyway?
2. Further information on this year's programme of Smith Square debates is
available at www.lga.gov.uk.
3. The idea of introducing a neighbourhood tier of governance was included
in the Cabinet Office's cross-governmental Strategic Audit, published
earlier this year, and is mentioned in Labour's Big Conversation document.
4. The LGA is undertaking a research project to look at area committees and
area forums. The research was carried out between February and May 2004 by
the LGA research team. The full research report will be published in late
July 2004. For the purpose of the research area committees are defined as
having delegated executive functions and area forums are defined as
5. This year's Smith Square Debates focus on issues explored in the LGA
paper 'Independence, opportunity, trust', launched in April 2004, which
seeks to influence political parties' thinking in the run up to the next
general election. It sets out local government's vision for the future and
challenges the next government to help us deliver these ambitions