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LGC JOINED-UP GOVERNMENT SUPPLEMENT - FAMOUS FIVE

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As this supplement has shown, joined-up government is now an unavoidable feature of the public sector landscape, bu...
As this supplement has shown, joined-up government is now an unavoidable feature of the public sector landscape, but as Jon Hanlon reminds us, there have been some notable failures

1) A befuddled group assembled recently for a discussion on emergency planning, including local government minister Nick Raynsford, deputy Metropolitan police commissioner Ian Blair and the founding director of New York's Office for Emergency Management, Jerry Hauer.

The meeting was chaired by London School of Economics Greater London Group director Tony Travers. The lack of joined-up thinking and general bewilderment would have been enough to panic any member of the public looking for reassurance after 11 September.

Mr Travers blames the lack of cohesion on the secretive and fragmented nature of British politics: 'If ever there was a time for joined-up government this is it. We in Britain, with our wonderfully fractured system, have some way to go.'

Emergency planning officers across Britain are issuing warnings about the continued lack of joined-up thinking.

Hertfordshire CC's head of safety, emergency and risk management David Moses says: 'We wouldn't be able to deal with an evacuation from London. We don't know what the government expects us to have in place. If they are planning something which would have an effect on us, it would be nice if we knew about it.'

The 11 September attacks showed it is impossible to predict what form a terrorist attack might take, but a lack of joined-up government means Britain is almost guaranteed to be unprepared, whatever happens.

2) Although there had been a serious outbreak of foot-and-mouth in 1967, neither local nor central government were ready for last year's epidemic.

Indeed, so serious were the errors made in tackling the disease that the government took the unusual step of admitting mistakes had been made.

Environment secretary Margaret Beckett said in the House of Commons: 'I have always acknowledged that in the desperate circumstances faced not only by the farming community but by my department and its officials, as by our departmental and ministerial predecessors, mistakes were bound to have been made.'

Central to these was a lack of joined-up thinking between central and local government. In the first few weeks of the outbreak, the seriousness of the disease was not recognised at central or local level.

All three independent inquiries into the epidemic criticise councils for closing footpaths when there was no evidence that walkers could spread the disease.

A report from the National Audit Office says: 'The initial blanket closure of most footpaths by local authorities had a very severe effect on the rural tourist industry,' while the Countryside Agency also criticises councils.

Agency chairman Ewen Cameron says: 'The decision on footpath closure caused widespread damage to tourism and contributed to the very large costs to the economy as a whole.'

3) councils welcomed the announcement of new freedoms and flexibilities in the local government white paper Strong local leadership: quality public services, but the ambitious plans to reward high-performing councils soon ran into difficulties.

The Office for Public Services Reform, led by prime minister Tony Blair's chief adviser on public service reform Wendy Thomson, kicked off the review with an assessment of the then DTLR.

She worked closely with permanent secretary Richard Mottram before his departure following the Martin Sixmith affair. The pair held meetings with the Improvement & Development Agency, Local Government Association, council chief executives and the private sector. LGA strategy and communications director Phil Swann said at the time: 'This is an important part of the various steps the government is taking to take forward the implementation of the white paper.'

But such tentative optimism was shattered when the investigation concluded the DTLR would be unable to deliver because it lacked capacity, a co-ordination strategy and influence in Whitehall.

It remains to be seen whether local government's move to the ODPM will improve things, and Mr Prescott's record with local government white papers at the DETR provides little hope.

4) Local public service agreements are essentially a package of targets and freedoms tailored to individual councils, but a number of flaws are emerging.

A straw poll, carried out by LGC earlier this year, found none of the pilot agreement councils had received their full complement of negotiated freedoms.

The lack of progress being made on the agreements became evident when the Department for Education & Skills announced that school bullies should be excluded. This crushed underfoot the common PSA target that the number of school exclusions should be cut.

Like the progress of the local government white paper, it seems freedoms and flexibilities tied to reforms work well in theory, but government departments need to take their role in the process seriously if local public service agreements are to succeed.

Local Government Association chair Sir Jeremy Beecham (Lab) raised the question of whether ministers are 'genuinely prepared to be less prescriptive' at a recent conference. The obvious conclusion so far is that they are not.

5) Education Action Zones are to be phased out in what many see as an acceptance that the joined-up government experiment has failed.

The zones are partnerships between parents, schools, businesses, education departments, Learning & Skills Councils and clusters of schools.

Their aim is to raise standards at schools in deprived areas. But schools minister Stephen Timms was forced to admit the zones were making slow progress at the end of last year when it was found that test results for 14 year olds in schools in the zones were improving at a slower rate than the national average.

Complaints about the number of plans councils have to produce prompted suggestion that this is the reason for the abolition of zones, but a spokesman for the Cabinet Office said this is not the case.

Early signs of the failure of zones came in an Ofsted report, which said: 'Apart from some small-scale activities which are helping to reduce disaffection among pupils, the work of the zones has had no significant impact on standards in secondary schools.'

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