The Department has commissioned an evaluation of unitary and pathfinder local authorities being implemented following an invitation to local authorities to make proposals for their area alongside the October 2006 Local Government White Paper Strong and Prosperous Communities (Cm6939-1). An overview of the evaluation brief has been placed in the Library of the House. Following a competitive tender, a consortium comprising PricewaterhouseCoopers, the Office for Public Management and Cardiff Business School is undertaking the first stage of the evaluation.
Since the concordat was signed in December 2007, significant progress has been made, including:
the signing of 150 local area agreements across all of England in June 2008, which means that councils and their partners can concentrate their efforts on the specific needs of the local people they serve;
reducing the national indicators to a single set of 189 covering all the priority outcomes for which local authorities and their partners will be responsible for to Government. Each local area agreement has up to 35 of these agreed as priorities. This will reduce the reporting burden on local government;
implementing, as approved by Parliament, the proposals from local government for nine unitary councils which will be fully up and running from 1 April 2009;
the passing of the Sustainable Communities Act in October 2007 as a way of empowering councils and citizens to shape their communities in the way that best suits their needs;
the devolution of parish governance arrangements in February this year and proposals for devolving certain byelaw powers;
greater financial flexibility in relation to providing for local decision-making on spending priorities and funding which demonstrate the Government's commitment to providing local government with additional freedom and flexibility to use the funding they have in the most appropriate way to fit their local circumstances. This has been achieved through:
the first ever three-year finance settlement which has given local government the flexibility to make longer-term plans and investments funded through an extra £8.9 billion for local government over the CSR07 period. We have announced three year individual allocations by both number and value for all specific grants where it is possible to announce them in advance;
a major change in the controls on capital spending through the introduction of the Prudential Borrowing regime which empowers councils to make the best decisions for their areas on the level of borrowing they think is affordable to support spending on capital projects;
by 2010-11, moving £5.7 billion into general grants which are not ring-fenced, to allow councils to spend money on the issues that matter most too local people;
reducing the overall amount of ring-fenced funding (excluding schools) over from 11.2 per cent. in 2008-09 to 8.0 per cent. in 2010-11;
reducing the number of specific revenue grants from 83 separate specific revenue grants that were provided in 2007-08, to 47 in 2009-10, which lifts the bureaucratic burden on councils;
the introduction of the Business Rates Supplement Bill.