By Mark Smulian
Links between councils and Whitehall have been overhauled in a radical reorganisation of the Department for Communities & Local Government.
Confirmation that the local government white paper is imminent came with mention of a 'small, dedicated' preparation team in the new structure led by David Prout, former director of local government policy.
Permanent secretary Peter Housden said the department's new shape would 'bring 'place' to the centre of public service reform'.
He said councils could expect the government to move 'further, faster' on local area agreements (LAAs) and local strategic partnerships (LSPs) to deliver personalised services.
'This is not a flip-flop from top-down to bottom-up, but a move to partnership between central government, local government and its local partners,' he said.
He conceded to LGC it was 'dead right' that the former Office of the Deputy Prime Minister had not convinced some departments to channel their work and money through LAAs and LSPs and said: 'The places & communities group is going to lead that work. It will enable us to work more closely with our colleague departments.'
These agreements and partnerships would be 'where central government engages' with local services, he added.
Mr Housden denied the new structure meant issues would be scattered. Finance, departmental communications and regions had been grouped together 'because that links this with ministerial work, it is hugely about winning hearts and minds', he said.
Of the DCLG's new equalities directorate, Mr Housden said: 'This is a sign of a new commitment to a lot of policy areas, including work with Muslims.'
New DCLG directorates
Governance & communications
Local democracy, neighbourhood governance, local government finance, local government white paper, Audit Commission sponsorship, regional and city region governance, communications, ministerial support, parliamentary liaison.
To be appointed
Places & communities
Local and neighbourhood development and renewal, local community cohesion, homelessness prevention, cities engagement and delivery, LAAs and LSPs, local government performance and efficiency, cross-government coordination of local delivery chains.
Programmes, policies & innovation
Planning, economic and social inclusion, new homes, housing, homelessness and Supporting People. Thames Gateway, Olympics, climate change.
National community cohesion, race, faith, women, Gypsies and travellers.
To be appointed
Departmental internal services.
Fire & resilience
Fire prevention, fire and rescue service, response to major incidents.
Analysis - will this be an innovation or just a muddle?
What do the following have in common: council tax, ministerial correspondence, neighbourhood governance and spin doctors?
Answer correctly and perhaps you could be director-general of the DCLG's new governance and communications directorate.
Permanent secretary Peter Housden insists bringing this eclectic group of functions together makes sense - concerned not merely with winning hearts and minds but with two-way transmission of messages between government and governed.
Councils may be puzzled that 'sponsorship of the Audit Commission' is in a different directorate from 'local government performance and efficiency', and 'neighbourhood governance' and 'neighbourhood development and renewal' are likewise divided.
Mr Housden insists the new department will carry greater weight in Whitehall than the old Office of the Deputy Prime Minister to convince departments to co-ordinate programmes through local area agreements and strategic partnerships.
Meanwhile, the DCLG's sixth floor is being cleared for a giant open-plan office in which ministers and senior staff can 'take decisions swiftly and effectively with the minimum of paperwork and process', Mr Housden has said.
Time will tell whether this is a successful innovation that enables officials to work across wide-ranging roles, or an arena for muddles and turf wars.
It needs to work; for too long local government has been represented by a department which carries little weight.