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White paper undermined

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Hazel Blears’ empowerment white paper appeared in disarray this week after its focus narrowed further following the removal of proposals around worklessness and regeneration.

LGC understands the communities secretary’s flagship policy document will no longer prioritise tackling deep-seated unemployment and promoting enterprise in poor areas, leaving it bearing little resemblance to the one outlined in a launch document
published in March.

The original title, Unlocking the Talent of our Communities, has been scrapped and the publication date pushed back from June to mid-July. The paper will now be written from the perspective of individual residents and the focus will be on encouraging active citizenship and reviving civic society.

Plans for the white paper to include proposals on making health and police services more accountable were quickly scrapped when the Home Office and Department of Health flexed their muscles (LGC, 6 March). Now, the loss of proposals around worklessness has sparked concern at the Local Government Association that the white paper could lead to needless legislation.

“The strength of the 2006 white paper was not only that it had real substance but that it was cross-government rather than departmental,” said LGA director of public affairs Alan Wardle. “Here, we are not sure what is it they are seeking to legislate for.”
The original consultation document, which focused heavily on joining up engagement and regeneration, said: “Effective regeneration relies absolutely on the active participation and engagement of local people and communities.” This is no longer expected to be addressed.

The paper is expected to have the following chapter headings: ‘More active citizens’; ‘Access to information’; ‘Having a say’; ‘Having an influence’; ‘Challenge holding people to account’; ‘Redress’; ‘Standing for office’; and ‘Ownership and control (of services by local people)’.

Department for Communities & Local Government officials are also understood to have been asking other government departments to ‘donate’ policy announcements. HM Courts Service was asked if forthcoming announcements on community justice could be included.

A spokesman for the Ministry of Justice said: “We are in contact with the DCLG over the upcoming white paper and are working with our existing projects to develop [community justice] more fully and look at what lessons can be taken elsewhere.”
A DCLG spokeswoman said: “It’s pointless to speculate what is in or out of the white paper before it is published later this summer.”

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