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Pickles announces bonfire of Town Hall red tape

Councils will no longer have to work thousands of man hours or waste millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money reporting back to Government, Communities Secretary Eric Pickles announced today. Today Eric has written to council leaders to tell them that he has instructed the Audit Commission and five other local government watchdogs to stop costly top-down league tables officially known as the Comprehensive Area Assessments (CAA).

The Government is committed to ‘shunning the bureaucratic levers of the past’ by replacing the heavy burden of Whitehall oversight with greater public transparency so councils can focus on frontline services. Independent research put the average annual cost of reporting back to government at £1.8m.

For example Leicestershire councils found they had 90 full time staff collecting and processing more than 3,000 individual data items for central government at a cost of £3.7m a year. They also faced 83 different inspections every year. Ministers believe ending CAA will save the Audit Commission £10 million and
cut significant inspection costs for councils. In 2006 the National Audit Office estimated the overall cost of monitoring local government at £2 billion a year. The Secretary of State is aware that scrapping CAA will not remove all red-tape burdens so he has asked Greg Clark, Minister for Decentralisation, to lead on further reducing the Whitehall burden across the board. Vital inspection where public welfare is at risk, such as of children's social services, will remain to protect the vulnerable.

Eric Pickles says:

“In the face of the nation's £156bn deficit, Central Government needs to stop the costly top-down monitoring that is engulfing councils and start trusting them to do what is right locally.

“Today I have instructed Town Hall watchdogs to stop tying the hands of council workers with unnecessary red tape and paperwork.

“It is much more important for the public to know what their councils are doing than having thousands of hush-hush, unseen papers being sent back and forth between Whitehall bureaucrats and the Town Hall.

“We are already pushing power as far away from Whitehall as we can and calling on councils to throw open their books to create much more cost effective and efficient local public services.

Minister for Decentralisation, Greg Clark added:

“Too much power has been sucked out of communities and into Westminster eroding trust in politics, and sapping responsibility and initiative with stifling bureaucracy. Transparency can make councils
look to the public they serve, not to Whitehall. We need to have safeguards against things going wrong, but it is vital for democracy that we reverse the years of increasing state control and give power and responsibility back to people, communities and councils.”

Local Government Minister Grant Shapps said:

“Up and down the country there are thousands of town hall workers who want to make a real difference in their communities. But for far too long too many of them have been tied up in needless bureaucracy which has prevented them from focusing on important work they want to do and their
communities need.

“Today’s announcement is great news for communities. It will help to free up workers to focus on the issues that communities really care about – whether tackling housing waiting lists, improving rubbish and recycling collections or helping the most vulnerable. And with public finances this is a shot in the arm for councils at exactly the right time.”

Mr Pickles wants greater transparency and openness to be the default setting for how councils do their business. This will root out wild overspending, expensive mistakes and unnecessary waste saving the public millions. Already the new Government has freed up over a billion pounds in ringfenced funding and called on councils to publish more information online on the quality of council services so an army of armchair auditors can make sure services are meeting the needs of local people.

David Parsons, Leader of Leicestershire County Council and Chairman of the Local Government Association’s Improvement Board, said:

"In Leicester and Leicestershire we measured the cost of data returns and inspection to local agencies to be over £7m. Presumably this is at least matched by the amount national agencies spend
dealing with these returns and undertaking these inspections.

"Coalition policy recognises that the inspection and reporting regimes have two major unintended effects - to change the focus of local agencies from their citizens towards meeting central Government's demands, and also, inhibiting local agencies in working together on locally agreed priorities, rather than those of their sponsoring Government Department.

"The reduction of the data and inspection burden and its refocusing on localities is very welcome."


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