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LEADER - BOLD AND VISIONARY WILL BEAT OBSTACLES

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Don't blame the government for shortcomings...
Don't blame the government for shortcomings

Just what is the point of local area agreements? Even if you land one of the pilots, you don't get a penny extra in funding. All you are signing up for is three years of pointless aggravation from hostile government departments, unco-operative local partners and spineless government offices.

And of course, what guidance you do get from government will be vague, inconsistent and far too late to be of use.

This, unfortunately, is the mindset with which far too many councils have approached local area agreements.

For every pilot to have grasped the opportunities offered by the scheme, there is at least one which has missed the point entirely.

Witness the range of agreements to emerge from the first round of pilots. While many councils were bold, ambitious and genuinely visionary, others were clearly more interested in grabbing what they could in terms of funding streams than seeing the bigger picture of what the agreement could bring to their area.

Some of these problems have been apparent at Peterborough City Council, where teething troubles mean the agreement will be signed off three months later than it should have been.

Yes, to some extent, the government is to blame. Throughout the short history of local area agreements, LGC has highlighted countless examples of obstructionism and self-preservation within the Whitehall departments involved in the negotiations.

But councils themselves are not beyond reproach. Some openly admit they started on the process too late. Others, with hindsight, say they focused too much on individual funding blocks to the exclusion of the scope of the agreement as a whole.

When councils complain about lack of guidance, they are not doing themselves or local government any favours.

The point of local area agreement is that councils work with their partners to develop a bottom-up vision of what can be achieved. So why complain about the lack of guidance? Surely the less guidance there is, the more freedom councils have to be innovative.

The agreements are now firmly embedded at the heart of government thinking on local government policy, and in particular on performance management. Given the changes afoot in the national inspection system, there is a real opportunity for councils to seize this area of reform and to shape it at a local level.

They must have the foresight to recognise it is there for the grabbing.

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