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LGC CONFERENCE REPORT-THE ACSES CONFERENCE IN SUNDERLAND

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Incoming president vows to widen membership and revamp image ...
Incoming president vows to widen membership and revamp image

Incoming president Claer Lloyd-Jones has promised to relaunch the Association of Council Secretaries and Solicitors and broaden the membership base to make it more influential.

Hackney LBC's new director of law and probity outlined grand plans for her 12 months at the helm and pledged to form closer relationships with other local government organisations.

She wants to see more joint working with organisations like the Local Government Association, the Improvement & Development Agency and the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives.

She said: 'I want to see a lot more joint working with other organisations. I'd like to be much more hands on.

'ACSeS must continue to change or we might whither and die. We need to change the perception of local government lawyers. Sometimes we are seen not as a force of change, but the opposite.

'ACSeS must lead a culture of change within the profession so that in a year's time its members are viewed as a bunch of essential, useful and helpful people.'

She added that 85% of monitoring officers are members of ACSeS, which placed the organisation in a 'position of responsibility'.

Measures she wants to implement include widening the membership to beyond lawyers and promoting a monitoring officer qualification.

Consultation vital for stock move

Councils thinking about transferring their housing stock cannot start their consultations with tenants too early, delegates were told.

Sunderland City Council started its consultation a year before it had to, group strategy executive John Craggs said.

'We didn't just use newsletters but road shows as well,' he said.

The response showed 24% of tenants wanted more information, 9% thought it was a bad idea and 67% thought, on the basis of what they knew so far, it was a good idea.

The advantages to the council of transferring its 38,000 homes - the biggest transfer to date - were the freeing up of£18.7m in tax; a capital receipt to spend on other services; and the transfer of 1,400 staff under TUPE regulations.

Tenants received a contract for repairs over five years,

rent guarantees, security of tenure and investment in the housing stock - the council predicted a shortfall of£302m needed to maintain investment levels.

The council showed tenants how favourably the rent would increase compared to the condition of the property.

'The DTLR said we had to be very clear about the rent issue,' added Mr Craggs. 'We compared the rent a tenant would be paying in a house of this condition and said after one rent increase you can see where you'll be.'

ACSES has scrutiny role, says Beecham

The role for the Association of Council Secretaries and Solicitors in the future of local government lies in getting the scrutiny function right, Local Government Association chair Sir Jeremy Beecham told delegates.

The scrutiny function could be a major focus for the organisation, he said, but he hoped there were others to which it could contribute as a professional organisation.

'Getting scrutiny right is important and this organisation has a real contribution to make in getting scrutiny right,' Sir Jeremy said.

'[Local government] should be active in identifying what needs changing and utilising the skills in professional organisations, and local government generally, to provide our own support for local government.'

Sir Jeremy said he was 'sceptical' about the prospect of elected mayors bringing about higher turn-out in the elections. He warned local government needed to be certain regional powers for regions come from central government.

Freedom harder to access than funds

For Sunderland City Council, the granting of freedoms and flexibilities as incentives in public service agreements has been less successful than financial rewards, chief executive Colin Sinclair told delegates.

As one of the first five councils to pilot agreements, Sunderland had little success in negotiating freedoms and flexibilities, he said.

But the council found the process of negotiating targets with central government fairly easy because 'local government is extremely skilled at negotiating'.

The process is a good basis for developing a dialogue with central government, he said.

He foresaw a time when PSAs will be transformed into partnership PSAs where other stakeholders will play a part in making these agreements with central government.

Commitment, leadership and vision were the keys to making PSAs work, he said, as was partnership working.

Sunderland was keen to join the scheme because 'we were concerned about outcomes', Dr Sinclair said.

'We were also interested in pioneering cross cutting areas, and showing central government that it couldn't improve services by diktat.'

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