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Local authorities are being urged to play their part in helping businesses to become more competitive. ...
Local authorities are being urged to play their part in helping businesses to become more competitive.

The government yesterday launched its third Competitiveness White Paper 'Competitiveness: Creating the Enterprise Centre of Europe', which reports on measures being taken to improve the competitiveness of UK firms.

These include measures to improve the performance of the public sector, the cost of which is borne in part by the enterprise of the private sector.

Environment secretary John Gummer said:

'Local government accounts for 25% of all public spending, equivalent to 10% of GDP. So the amount it spends, and how it spends this amount, can have a major impact on business. Local authorities need to be efficient and to provide quality services. They also have significant powers to assist local economies and they should ensure that their regulatory responsibilities are clearly explained to industry and enforced effectively and in a way which reflects business needs.

'World class public services are vital for competitiveness, and that includes local public services. Today's White Paper sets out what local authorities can do to assist competitiveness and identifies areas of good practice. I commend it to all of them.

'The planning system is an example. It should facilitate the supply of land for development while reflecting the needs of local communities.

'Bringing together the various regulatory functions which impinged upon any one development could speed up the time it takes to deal with development proposals and thus help businesses.'

He said that in the late summer the government would launch its one-stop shop projects, in which pilot local authorities would be developing a co-ordinated approach to approvals and enforcement. The good practice lessons would then be disseminated to all authorities.

He added that local authorities were increasingly working in partnership with the private sector. Compulsory competitive testing enabled private sector companies to compete for work previously done by local authorities themselves. Such competition had delivered average savings of 6%. Some authorities had also discovered the benefits of placing the delivery of services fully in the private sector and had developed long-term relationships, realising the potential of their assets and drawing on private sector expertise.

Mr Gummer said: 'The government is also sweeping aside the restrictions that in the past have acted as a barrier to councils encouraging the private sector to run and fund major capital projects.

'Local authorities have responded enthusiastically to the challenge approach under City Challenge and the Single Regeneration Budget Challenge Fund, bringing forward imaginative schemes jointly with the private sector. We have recently announced our intention to extend this approach through a pilot Capital Challenge scheme involving £600m worth of funding for local authorities' top priority capital projects. Local authorities are also importantpartners contributing to the Government Offices' regional agendas for action on competitiveness.

'Local authorities have shown that they can provide quality services. Of the current 417 Charter Marks, local authority services hold 165. We know through their published performance indicators, which this year for the first time enables comparisons for each authority over two years, that the performance of the best local authorities is outstanding, and that of the worst is improving.

'But the message is also clear that there are large numbers who could do better. I urge the average and the below average to learn from the examples of the best and to show strong local leadership and management in taking competitiveness forward.'

-- The White paper contains a two page feature on the role of local government in relation to competitiveness in Chapter 13 'World Class Public Services'. Chapter 15 'Local and Regional Partnership' also covers authorities' role as local partners. Otherwise references to local authorities are contained in the individual chapters dealing with issues in which local government has an interest.

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