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Eaton rebuffs Pickles over 'headline chasing'

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Local Government Association chair Dame Margaret Eaton has hit back at communities secretary Eric Pickles’ attack on what he called “council non-jobs”.

She told him to “stop chasing headlines” that damage the image of local government.

Ahead of his speech to the LGA conference on Tuesday afternoon, Mr Pickles told newspapers that all data about jobs should be put on council websites so that residents could judge the value for money given

“It will also enable [the public] to question whether those jobs are really needed at all,” he said. “What does an ‘audience development officer’ do? Is a ‘cheerleading development officer’ what taxpayers want?”

But Dame Margaret (Con) told the conference: “We all know it’s too easy for us to be undermined by an odd-sounding job title or a piece of officialdom that - however well-intentioned - looks plain daft in the outside world.

“We need to make sure we give no-one the excuse to attack our colleagues’ hard work. I must say, we also need national politicians to stop chasing cheap headlines at our expense.”

Dame Margaret also hailed a new report from the LGA which claimed devolving power to councils and slashing bureaucracy and regulations could save up to £100bn.

The ambitious plans require ministers to de-ring fencing a raft of funding streams and hand localities control over spending on range of issues including local transport, primary health care, policing and probation, and support into employment for the long-term unemployed.

Councils or groups of councils should be responsible to local voters and to Parliament for spending on frontline services under a new system of “placed-based budgeting”, the LGA argued.

The LGA said it was a “once-in-a-generation programme of change to strip out the plethora of funding streams, accountability regimes, ring-fenced budgets, quangos and funding bodies, which cost billions of pounds”.

Addressing the LGA’s annual conference in Bournemouth, chairman Dame Margaret Eaton (Con) is scheduled to say: “If we simply cut departments and organisations as they are currently configured, we will do nothing to cut waste and instead hurt the frontline more than we need to.

“Far too many costly agencies spend money running themselves and talking to each other, rather than doing things people want.  Far too much time at the frontline is spent accounting to bureaucrats, rather than being accountable to people who actually use services.”

To read the report, Place-based budgets - The future governance of local public services, see attached file.

Proposals in the report include:

  • Put councils at the heart of local economic development, allowing councils in each region to either replace the Regional Development Agencies (RDA) with local enterprise partnerships  or retain existing regional arrangements, and abolish the boards of Primary Care Trusts and Strategic Health Authorities
  • Devolve RDA, Homes and Communities Agency and Skills Funding Agency budgets to place-based budgets
  • Devolve the budgets and commissioning of employment support and Job Centre Plus functions
  • Transfer responsibility for many trunk roads (excluding motorways) from the Highways Agency to local government
  • Create local accountability for offender management
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Readers' comments (1)

  • Well said - Pickles is chasing headlines rather than setting direction for local government at a difficult time.

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