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Radical new thinking is needed to make cleaner, safer, greener communities a reality...
Radical new thinking is needed to make cleaner, safer, greener communities a reality

Cleaner, safer, greener communities, the liveability of local areas and the Respect agenda are central to the government's drive to reconnect citizens to local democracy. It should give them a say in how councils shape, deliver and are held accountable for the management of the public realm.

The quality of the local environment affects all our lives and recent MORI surveys confirm people are more concerned about crime, anti-social behaviour and other negative community factors than anything else. Furthermore, satisfaction with the cleanliness of the environment and the overall 'liveability' of local areas is closely allied to the perception of the overall quality of a council.

The government's double devolution model sees a joint national neighbourhoods framework setting out how public services are delivered and empowerment mechanisms for local people. This will include extending customer satisfaction surveys, extending the use of delegated budgets, giving the community the right to buy open spaces and public services guarantees to hold public service actors to account.

Piloting new pan-sector models of delivery through the 'Safer, stronger communities' block of LAAs is seen as key to driving more joined-up approaches.

The renaissance of town centres and visible environmental policing initiatives really do appear to be having a measurable impact. However, real change in community/public/private stewardship will not be delivered without a fundamental rethink in the way services are provided.

So what does this mean for the way that local government designs and commissions services?

How do the current mantras of bottom-up accountability, choice and voice fit with contracting structures which are commonly framed around inputs rather than integration, citizens or local need?

The challenge is therefore for greater customer focus around management of the public realm.

This requires a careful balance to be struck between people and place-centred services and the challenges of bigger is better that some infer from Gershon.

It can be too easy to focus on raw costs rather than value - particularly as expressed by citizens through the ballot box.

Further value can be extracted through community capacity building. Experience suggests cleaner, greener, safer really comes to life when citizens own that vision and help deliver it.

A process for communicating key performance measures and securing buy in to service standards with local people will be needed if citizens are to be enticed to engage with the services which influence the overall quality of their immediate environment. One method of achieving this would include area committees or area panels or through devolving local ownership to management of discrete public amenities, such as parks.

The government sees the third sector as key players - with its success resting in building initiatives bottom-up from local need, rather than a top-down delivery perspective - this resonates with David Miliband's latest thinking. But this also requires fresh procurement thinking - models have perhaps for too long legislated against local delivery.

So what needs to change? Thinking around shared services and LAAs have so far tended to focus on other areas. If local government wants to really engage with their citizens then more radical approaches are required and a subject that can be seen as just not sexy enough needs to be given the focus it and citizens deserve.

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