NAO: Lack of communication causing policies to fail
Central government must improve its communications with local councils and show that future consultations are genuine two-way discussions, the National Audit Office has warned in a new report.
Central government’s failure to understand that local authorities have far wider responsibility for community policies – including 1,335 statutory duties – often causes councils to lose operational focus, especially when priorities clash, the study reveals.
Departments are also criticised for rushing through policy consultations affecting local authorities. Analysis of consultations undertaken in the two years to January 2012 revealed that two-thirds were allocated less time than the standard 60 working days - with a disproportionate number started just before parliamentary recess and key holiday periods.
Council officers are swamped with a high volume of poor quality government communications, the NAO found. The report reveals that central government departments, agencies and quangos sent 744,000 emails to local government in March 2012 alone. Local authorities are ‘exasperated by the poor signposting’ of many messages, which waste the time of hard-pressed town hall managers who need to understand and act on communications quickly, the study claims.
The findings are contained in the first of thirteen value-for-money reports into the local government sector by the spending watchdog – which is set to assume the Audit Commission’s role in setting the framework for local financial audit.
Head of the National Audit Office, Amyas Morse, said: ‘Communication and engagement between central and local government are inherently challenging, especially given the differences in priorities, ways of dong business and pressures. Communications need to be clear, timely and take account of these cultural differences.
‘Moreover, consultation needs to be done in a way that shows that central government ‘means it’, with enough time for the results to be meaningful, and for local government views to be reflected in the projects which go forward.’
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