Social policy thinker Charles Leadbeater warned conference delegates that new localism was not a panacea, but had to be matched by strong leadership and targets to deliver public service improvement.
In a session on improvement on Wednesday, Mr Leadbeater, who has just spent a year with ten high-performing councils researching his latest book, said: 'These are councils that like targets. They believe in being honest and open about what they are doing.'
But Professor Chris Skelcher, of Birmingham University's Institute of Local Government Studies, said the experience of previously poor-performing councils could help fashion a new central-local government settlement in a localist direction.
He said recovery programmes, such as the one instituted at Walsall MBC over the past year, demonstrated the need for councils to be given space to achieve genuine improvement.
A delegation from Walsall addressed the conference about the improvement in its fortunes since it sacked its chief executive and brought in an interim management team, seconded from other councils, last year.
New permanent chief executive Annie Shepperd said it was looking to become one of the first councils to move out of the poor CPA category.