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Oral - Local Government Policy Statement

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Sue Essex, Minister For Finance, Local Government And Public Services
On Thursday 8 March I published the local government policy statement, ‘A Shared Responsibility’. It outlines the way forward for local government to deliver the commitments made in our Beecham response, ‘Making the Connections: Delivering Beyond Boundaries’. The broad principles within that document relate to the better integration of public services, the need for more consistency in their performance, and more effective performance management. They also describe the need for a more engaged leadership style from the Welsh Assembly Government. These principles are at the heart of ‘A Shared Responsibility’.

To achieve a much-improved service delivery and citizen experience of services, our local government policy statement focuses on three key areas of development: governance, scrutiny and information. The Welsh Assembly Government is seeking Measure-making powers for the Assembly through the Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Bill, that is currently before Parliament, in order to propose legislative provisions which will implement the policy programme in these three areas.

In relation to governance, the policy statement builds on the recommendations in the Beecham response to set up local service boards and local service agreements across Wales. Local government will convene public service organisations on an equal footing to improve local service delivery and to tackle our most intractable, cross-boundary issues. We will put in place, through our new legislative powers, a duty to co-operate that will underpin this joint working.

The policy statement also outlines how we will address the alignment of public services operating at several different levels, in order for national, regional, sub regional and local activity to be simplified. Our intention is to create a national framework where the Wales spatial plan at a national and regional level, and the Community Strategy at a local, service-delivery level, will be connected and aligned. To support this we will propose a partnership rationalisation programme to avoid the creation of too much bureaucracy and to build on the success of the plan rationalisation that has taken place recently.

The emerging role of the Welsh Local Government Association’s regional partnership boards will also be an important feature of the regional and sub-regional picture over the next few years, and I pay tribute to the work that they are doing here. They should support joining-up and collaboration between local authorities and public services, and make the most of the Welsh pound. Value Wales has a key role in supporting this development, and it has been successful in catalysing improved regional and national procurement, but there is still much more to do in supporting the development of larger, more ambitious collaborations and shared services. We will, therefore, invite the National Assembly to legislate for powers for the Welsh Assembly Government to enhance or direct collaboration between service deliverers.

We must also ensure that we can hear citizens’ voices clearly as our policy programme develops and that this has a real impact on service planning, design and integration. The local level needs to connect to regional and sub-regional working, so that the citizens’ voice can act as a counterweight. We will propose local service board stakeholder groups to support shared working between local organisations and legislate for a broadened duty to consult and involve citizens in the development of community strategies. We will also support a number of citizen engagement pilots across Wales, including participatory budgeting.

In terms of scrutiny and performance appraisal, the reform of public services will lead to an increase, over the next few years, in services being delivered through partnerships of two or more local authorities and by local authorities collaborating with other organisations. The development of local service boards will undoubtedly require a broader public service model of scrutiny. The Welsh Assembly Government is seeking Measure-making powers in order to propose legislative provisions, which could change the operation of political structures, including scrutiny. We are also seeking to legislate for joint public service committees and for public service co-options, with voting powers at these committees to help public services focus on shared outcomes.

A refreshed scrutiny or performance-appraisal model will ensure that cross-service activity is challenged effectively and expertly. The policy statement develops a new role for the non-executive member—often referred to as the backbencher—in leading an approach to scrutiny, which is cross-service, constructive and engaging. We want non-executive members to be champions for the most vulnerable people in our society, to guide them to the services that they need and to challenge the system to be simpler and better through rigorous performance appraisal.

In terms of information, the production of better information on citizen satisfaction and local authority performance is vital for improvement. Our policy programme must be supported by better performance information that people find meaningful, and that informs and helps public services to improve. Performance Wales will provide some of this information: it will generate citizen-focused reporting from local service boards and local service agreements, based principally on selective performance frameworks, and local performance profiles. We will, therefore, develop a performance-management framework, in collaboration with our local and national partners, to ensure comprehensive coverage of local authority services. For the first time, we will publish an initial set of national service standards for key services, so that people across Wales can see the core services to which they are entitled.

We have achieved a great deal in the local government community over the last five years. We have excellent partners in the wider public service, in the Welsh Local Government Association and in each local authority. These partners are as committed as we are to delivering this ambitious policy programme and to pursuing the aims of Wales being—as Jeremy Beecham said—an international exemplar of small country governance. Our policy will provide the framework and tools for modern local government in Wales.