Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Statutory duties and budgets

The Government has published details of the £1.166bn Local Government contribution to the £6.2bn cross government savings in 2010/11 needed to tackle the UK's record deficit in order to restore confidence in the economy and support the recovery.

In the light of the recent announcements of in year cuts to council spending, I tried to re-visit what it is that a council must do. What a good council should do, and what could be left out, if residents don’t want it.
The Council’s constitution gives some clues, but it is not all obvious. The fact that there are some Statutory Committees gives more clues.
Says that Unitary Authorities look after:
housing, waste management, waste collection, council tax collection, education, libraries, social services, transport, planning, consumer protection, licensing, cemeteries and crematoria

The Answer is not simple, and the best I can come up with is at the Conservative Home blog.
I hope here to paraphase what Glyn Gaskarth wrote there.

Councils are legally obliged to fulfil their statutory duties.
But what are the statutory duties they are required to fulfil?
New ones are added each year.
Old ones are rarely repealed.

There should be fewer legal obligations for councils.
We should know what they are.
Any new ones should be costed and funded.
A mistake in a council’s legal responsibility could result in wasting money by performing ‘duties’ they are not legally required to, or left open to penalties if they fail to perform duties that they must.

There are issues of translation of council documents. When Government
Quango’s charged with overseeing compliance seem to differ with Government Ministers on the scale of what local authorities are legally required to do. Nobody is completely sure.

Central Government dictates what local authorities must do.
If a Government is serious about giving local authorities more autonomy it needs to understand what they are currently legally required to do. It needs to audit all the statutory responsibilities of local authorities. All these statutory duties need to be listed in one place accessible to the citizen.
A simple search of “Statutory Duty” on the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) site yields 1,000 individual results. This is highly unscientific. However, we can draw three basic conclusions from this fact.
Firstly, there appear to be many statutory duties.
Secondly, we are unsure how many.
Thirdly that DCLG, the department responsible for managing local authority’s compliance does not appear to include a list of local authorities’ statutory duties on their website (none could be found in this search).
A simple list would give greater clarity and flexibility to local authorities.
They would be certain of what they had to do.
Perhaps residents could then be able to vote for a local authority that pledged to tax less because it was required to do less?
Councillors would act when they wanted to because they believed it necessary to act, not simply to comply with the will of Central Government.

The questions are:
What sort of things should your council be obliged to do?
How much do you want to pay for those things?

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