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Lambeth call for shift in 'power relationship'

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Councillors at Lambeth LBC want to radically alter their “power relationship” with officers as part of a significant shake up of the authority structures.

They also want the major cultural shift ushered in “at pace and with urgency”, amid claims that some officers are resisting the authority’s ambition to become a ‘co-operative council’.  

The comments are made in a report authorised by chief executive Derrick Anderson outlining plans for a major change in the borough. Under the proposals, which LGC reported last week, the council’s four directorates would be abolished and councillors, rather than officers, would be responsible for commissioning services.

Some councillors see the reforms as a way of addressing what they see as a “silo mentality” and “personal fiefdoms” among officers, LGC has learned.

“Partly the cultural change needed is about getting officers to trust councillors and understand that community groups have more than enough intelligence to make decisions about services themselves”, one councillor said.

“The new structure is a challenge to lots of people in the organisation who don’t understand that, or aren’t willing to go along with it.”

The report described the council’s plan as a “big-bang approach to delivering major changes”.

It warned that some senior management posts would be made redundant from April next year, which it said would go part of the way to plugging a £10m funding gap in the council’s 2013-14 budget.

The councillor acknowledged that the plans were financially “risky”, but said in the context of potentially larger-than-expected budget cuts in next month’s local government finance settlement it would be a bigger risk to avoid making changes.

The report highlights a request from councillors to “find the right approach such that commissioning does not simply lead to services being ‘outsourced’”. Concerns were also raised that procurement laws could be a barrier to ensuring the council encouraged “community- based delivery” of local services, it added.

Under the plans the council’s four directorates – finance and resources, adult and community services, children and young people’s services and housing, regeneration and environment – will be replaced by four new “clusters” called commissioning support, delivery, enabling , and cooperative business development.

Council officers will have a new duty to involve local residents in all of their decisions.

“It will no longer be sufficient to expect the citizen to respond to the council’s mechanisms for involvement, but councillors and officers will have to go to the citizens”, the report said.

“It will be the responsibility and role of all council officers to involve citizens in the design, delivery and evaluation of what they are doing, wherever that is in the organisation.”

The reforms ultimately aim to see the responsibility for commissioning services being devolved from councillors to community groups, it suggested.

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