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By Kerry Lorimer...
By Kerry Lorimer

The number of local area agreement pilots is to be tripled as part of the government's drive to boost councils' role as community leaders.

The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister said it would seek expressions of interest from councils to participate in 40 new pilots for the scheme, under which councils have greater flexibility over how to use non-mainstream funding to agreed targets.

Local government minister Nick Raynsford, who announced the first round of 21 agreements in October, said he had no criteria in mind for the selection of pilots.

He said: 'In the first round, we deliberately made sure there was a range of different authorities, some urban, some county councils. We weren't going just for those that were 'good' or 'excellent' - there were a range of authorities with different comprehensive performance assessment levels.

'My instinct is we will stick to that fairly broad approach. We will want to see a representative number of authorities from across all the English regions, so that will certainly be a concern, as it was in the first round.'

He indicated the new pilots would see their funding structured around three blocks - children and young people, safer and stronger communities, and healthier communities and older people - but did not rule out the creation of another single-pot pilot along the lines of the model being trialled at Telford & Wrekin Council.

'We would broadly be following the three-pot model in the next round,' said Mr Raynsford. 'There is no proposal to [pilot] another single pot, but, who knows, we might look at that again.'

Local area agreements are a cornerstone in the government's vision of partnership working, with the ODPM regarding the scheme as a catalyst for councils' community leadership role.

The announcement of fresh pilots should spark lively interest from councils, with the last round heavily oversubscribed.

Sheffield City Council chief executive Sir Bob Kerslake praised the government for its 'ambitious' expansion of the scheme.

'It's early days for the pilots, but the model has a lot to commend it,' he said. 'Going for 40 new pilots is an ambitious move, but it's the right one.'

In the pipeline Big ideas to look out for

A number of key themes are emerging from the government's 10-year vision for local government and the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister's own five-year plan. So which ideas should you look out for?

Neighbourhood charter

A framework for neighbourhood bodies, offering a menu of structures and types of action.

Options include communities owning assets like playgrounds, taking control of devolved budgets and adapting by-laws based on new national models, for example against skateboarding on the street.

Backbenchers to act as

'mini-mayors' in their wards

The documents argue for a clear leadership role for backbench councillors to ensure the public sees them as key players who can get jobs done. They describe such visible leadership as a 'mini-mayor'. The government also questions whether multi-member wards dilute the 'visibility' of local leadership.

More opportunities for elected mayors, in places that want them

The government believes directly elected mayors have been a strong force for change and wants to create more of them, to transform major cities. The days of the 'cumbersome' 5% referendum trigger could be numbered. There will be more consultation on 'more powers for mayors'.

Expansion of local area agreements

The government sees local area agreements as a catalyst for councils' community leadership role, and 40 new pilots are planned by April 2006.

Whole council elections every four years

Whole elections are on the cards. The government says they will lead to greater stability, turnout and public understanding.

Single public service leadership cadre

The government believes the public sector could benefit from greater movement of talent between its various streams.

Timeline - ODPM policy

Feb 2005 onwards


National and regional meetings with councils and representatives of the public, private, voluntary and commercial sector to discuss implications for local leadership



management paper

The third of the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister's four papers on the 10-year vision is expected, focusing on performance management


Functions paper

The fourth and final paper is due under the 10-year vision, dealing with the central issue of functions and services


Lyons inquiry

Sir Michael Lyons concludes his inquiry into the future of local funding, examining the case for allowing councils to raise a greater proportion of their income locally from a wider range of local taxes

Early 2006

White paper

Full strategy document expected from the ODPM pulling together feedback from the discussions, possibly culminating in a white paper

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