Department for Communities & Local Government senior officials have been handed responsibility over different areas of the country to develop better links between councils and the department.
The department said “locality partnership arrangements” would give areas a better chance to “inform, influence and develop policy”.
The arrangements, which the department said was not inspection by stealth, officially went live this summer but are still being fine-tuned.
A report by DCLG permanent secretary Sir Bob Kerslake said: “DCLG is developing locality partnership arrangements, whereby senior civil servants have responsibility for developing local links in set areas of the country.”
The department said the partnerships involved DCLG directors taking oversight for 14 geographic areas based on Homes & Communities Agency and local enterprise partnership area boundaries.
Engagement will be mainly on one- to-one basis with top tier areas at director and deputy director level, the department said.
A spokesman added that the arrangements would not be used “as a performance tool”.
“Building relationships with local areas is part of the role of almost all senior civil servants in DCLG and relationships will be developed with all local authorities who want to engage with the department; as well as communities and businesses,” he added.
One local government source familiar with the plans said it did not appear they were an attempt by the department to meddle but would give senior officials a better understand of “life at the coal face”.
The report, Accountability: Adapting to Decentralisation, set out how Sir Bob will remain accountable for the sector once power is handed down to local government and beyond.
Despite Sir Bob concluding that “there is a robust core framework in place which I can rely on as accounting officer for DCLG to provide assurance that councils will spend their money with regularity, propriety and value for money”, his report also conceded that the model for handling intervention in failing councils would have to “be adapted to allow for the disbanding of the Audit Commission”.
A DCLG spokesman could not elaborate on what this would adaption would involve. “There is a robust system of accountability in place at present, and we will adapt the system to make sure it remains robust in the future. As it has not yet been disbanded, the Audit Commission is still part of the current system,” he said.