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Cast aside caution on transformation, minister urges

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Local government has been too risk adverse and should be prepared to confront failure as it reforms services, a Cabinet Office minister has said.

During a speech on public service reform in central London yesterday, Matt Hancock also said greater control over business rates would allow councils to reform services to make savings.

Mr Hancock said: “The first question for government shouldn’t be what’s the best model for delivering public services, but rather what is the user need?

“Getting this right inevitably involves trial and error… In public services we are too cautious about using that phrase.”

Speaking to LGC after the speech, Mr Hancock acknowledged local government faced further funding constraint this parliament but insisted ministers were offering the sector freedom to reform and improve services.

“Reform both in terms of giving more freedom to operate according to how people on the ground see fit, policy freedom and the big business rate freedom that was announced,” Mr Hancock said. “These freedoms are given with the knowledge that people can use them to meet very tight spending limits.”

Asked how genuine this freedom was, Mr Hancock highlighted the general power of competence introduced by the previous government under the Localism Act 2011. This allows councils to do anything an individual can do, provided it is not prohibited by another law.

Mr Hancock said local authorities were free to try new things as long as they complied with relevant legislation, for example the Data Protection Act or rules governing social care.

He added: “I believe in the power of human ingenuity which includes the ability of people working on the frontline to constantly improve the services they deliver.”

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