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Volume 696: debated on Wednesday 14 November 2007

My honourable friend the Minister for Local Government (John Healey) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

Local authorities were central to the response to the flooding that occurred this summer which caused widespread damage to homes, businesses and key public services. With around 48,000 homes affected and damage to schools and roads, councils remain central to the recovery operations and some may struggle to meet key service targets such as waste collection, recycling and decent homes.

Therefore, I am announcing plans today to ensure that councils severely affected by this summer's floods will not be unfairly penalised through the local performance framework. To ensure our approach is clear, consistent and transparent, I am publishing a statement of principles, which is set out below.

I want to ensure that local authorities and partners are able to concentrate on flood recovery while continuing to deliver the best service they can to their citizens.

The Government will adopt this to enable departments and inspectorates to take into account evidence showing temporary dips in performance resulting from the flooding against an improving trend or previous good performance.

However, we are also clear that maintaining momentum on existing improvements is important, especially as we introduce the new local performance framework and indicator set over the next year. For this reason we will not make general revisions to targets for the flooded areas. The process for agreeing any flexibilities will be transparent and clear.

Statement of PrinciplesGuidelines for considering performance management flexibilities

While performance management flexibilities will need to be agreed on a case-by-case basis with each area, the following are some broad principles to inform the engagement with authorities affected by floods.

Main principles

Where the impact of the floods results in an unusual strain being placed on local authorities and their partners, government departments and the relevant inspectorates will recognise this when considering performance assessment data. In particular we would expect common sense to be used when reacting to any temporary dips in performance against an improving trend or previous good performance.

None the less, the best value duty to secure continuous improvement still applies and citizens have a right to expect that disruption to services will be minimised as far as possible. So we would expect flexibilities to be agreed only in areas significantly affected by flooding and where clear evidence can be demonstrated as to why flexibilities are necessary.

Sound information remains a critical underpinning to understanding and managing performance, so authorities should continue to measure and report on their performance.

Negotiation of new local area agreements from autumn 2007 to spring 2008 will not be delayed. Individual authorities may wish to discuss with their GO any additional support they may need to do this.

In line with practice in other cases where the performance of authorities and partners has been affected by events beyond their control, we cannot agree to renegotiate the targets against which reward grant is paid, either from local public service agreements or the reward element of local area agreements.

However, we are looking at the possibility of allowing some flexibility in terms of assessment of performance attained if affected by flooding. This would be done through provision of direct evidence to independent assessors that a target would have been met in full or the threshold for reward attainment exceeded if flooding had not occurred. This would result not in adjustment of a target, but rather in a change in the performance judged to have occurred.

Handling procedures

GO locality managers will be the channel for any discussions held between relevant departments, inspectorates and local authorities to achieve agreement on individual issues.

Inspectorates are responsible for the independent judgments they make and the methodologies on which they do so. It will therefore be for them to determine what reasonable flexibilities they can agree, within the boundaries of the principles outlined above. This might include cancelling or rescheduling an inspection, or taking account of the impacts of the flooding in reaching any judgments.

While we recognise the impacts of flooding can take several years to fully repair, we believe performance management flexibilities should be limited to the period that authorities are dealing with the immediate impacts and setting up their longer-term arrangements. Therefore, we would expect flexibilities to be limited to within the financial year 2007-08, recognising that this also covers inspections and assessments made in 2008-09 using 2007-08 data.