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LGC View - Public Health England's new chief

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Eric Pickles famously characterised his approach - leaving councils technically free to do what they want while bellowing at them exactly what he expected to see - as “guided localism”.

How should we characterise the approach to local government that Duncan Selbie has outlined to LGC? Public Health England’s new chief is keen to dispel any fears that may linger on account of his role as director of programmes and performance for the Department of Health during the New Labour years - a case study of centralised performance management and control.

But his promises that councils will be free to set their own local priorities warrant close scrutiny. For all the best intentions, no government lets go completely. And with his promises of regular “conversations”, local government can expect Mr Selbie to be a big presence in their lives.

The regular publication of performance data to allow citizens, lobby groups or journalists to compare performance is a hallmark of the government’s approach to public service reform. Pledges to intervene early to tackle underperformance appear to hark back to the previous administration’s way of working.

Perhaps we should call it ‘healthily concerned’ localism or ‘two-strikes-and-you’re-out’ localism?

Still, Mr Selbie deserves a chance to show he can leave his past behind him and work in a consensual way with the sector.

Helping the sector secure more than the £2.2bn currently allotted by the Department of Health for public health funding would go a long way to winning over his new partners.

Dan Drillsma-Milgrom, deputy editor (news)

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