Whatever decisions are made about the future of Total Place, councils need a sound legal footing on which to build innovative partnerships and unlock substantial savings.
At first glance, the solution looks simple: hand councils a power of general competence allowing them to do anything as long as it is legal, and let them get on with it. Unfortunately, the reality - both politically and legally - is far more complicated.
Councils have discovered that legislation is not always what it appears - not least those involved in the London Authorities Mutual Ltd (LAML) case, which is still rumbling on.
The LAML case hinged on differing interpretations of the so-called wellbeing power. But it was assumed the case would be reduced to a footnote in history if councils were given a power of general competence.
However, as Eversheds partner Judith Barnes explains overleaf, the Conservatives’ much-vaunted proposal to do just that, is far from cut and dry.
A lack of confidence also remains as to whether a future government would actually deliver on such an ambitious promise. Such doubts have led to the first discussions of a ‘Total Place power’.
If ministers felt a power of general competence could give maverick local politicians too free a rein, a compromise deal could be struck whereby councils are given the green light to do whatever they want, as long as it is in conjunction with another public sector body.
Lawyers, including the Local Government Association’s legal adviser Bevan Brittan, have discussed the matter and while an overarching power remains first choice, such an arrangement would at least put partnerships on a firm footing to turn their Total Place ideas into reality.
Others, such as New Local Government Network’s Chris Leslie, remain convinced the sector cannot afford to compromise and that a power of general competence is already overdue.
The best solution remains to be seen, but it would be a sorry state of affairs if Total Place were to end in a raft of costly and time-consuming legal battles.