Sam Clayden 26 February 2018

Report demands new accountability powers for local government

Academics have demanded a raft of tools to enable local government to hold to account the ‘chaotic network’ of agencies involved in providing public services.

New research, published by the Association of Public Service Excellence (APSE) and carried out by the Local Governance Research Unit at De Montfort University, claimed the events surrounding the Grenfell fire, as well as the fallout of the Carillion collapse, highlighted the complexity of the public services landscape.

The report read: ‘There exists a complex and often chaotic network of interactions between a range of actors, within the localities, which operate beyond the normal restraints imposed by a democratic link of accountability to the public.

‘That absence of a democratic link or source of legitimacy adds to the chaos of governing networks as they are not rooted within the localities in the same way as local government.’

The paper calls for the creation of local public accounts committees (PAC) in all council areas and for all councillors to have ‘securing public accountability’ as part of their role.

All arms-length bodies created by councils must have robust accountability processes in place, with opportunities for councillors to challenge and influence the actions of the entity, the report added.

Councils should also be made to develop a local ‘governance framework’ policy document, which identifies all the organisations the council interacts with and a ‘governance forum’ where all those organisations can ‘regularly meet’

APSE chief executive Paul O’Brien said: ‘Too often we witness agencies acting in ways which can undermine the needs of local areas.

‘By giving councils a much broader role in pulling together disparate local actors we can start to enhance joined up public policy outcomes.’

Rachel Wall, one of the report's researchers, added: 'Those who behave in a way which damages the wider public interest should be accountable at a local level; at the same time bringing accountability to the current chaos will provide a vehicle to enrich the efficacy of local networks”

Writing in The MJ last month, Centre for Public Scrutiny chief executive Jacqui McKinlay called for the creation of local PACs, saying there was an ‘actual democratic defecit’.

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