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Central-Local Concordat

Volume 699: debated on Wednesday 5 March 2008

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What changes they propose to make to the policies and working arrangements of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs following the signing of the central–local concordat on 12 December 2007, both in general and in specific response to the agreement in the concordat (a) that “there should be a presumption that powers are best exercised at the lowest effective and practical level”; (b) that central government undertakes to “progressively remove obstacles which prevent councils from pursuing their role, including reducing the burden of appraisal and approval regimes, the ring-fencing of funds for specific purposes and the volume of guidance it issues”, (c) that the number of national indicators should be “around 200”; (d) that in relation to the negotiation of new-style local area agreements “this objective will require major changes in behaviour and practice from central government departments, their agencies, government offices, councils and local partners”; and what is the process and timetable for such changes. [HL1727]

The central-local concordat, agreed between the Government and the Local Government Association (LGA) on behalf of local authorities in England, was signed in December last year. It commits both parties to a framework of principles to secure a new relationship between central government and local government. Discharging the rights and responsibilities of central government and local government set out in the concordat will require major changes in the behaviour and practice of both parties. The operation of this agreement will be monitored on a continuing basis, through renewed central-local partnership arrangements.

We are discussing with the LGA how we take forward the concordat, focusing on its guiding principles and specific commitments. These include encouraging councils to make effective use of their power to promote the well-being of their area; enabling local government to conduct a growing share of the business of government; central government consulting and collaborating with councils in setting national policies and proposing legislation; reducing the burden of appraisal and approval regimes and the volume of guidance issued by central government to local authorities; supporting and encouraging strong leadership and effective partnership working at local level; and increasing local democratic accountability of key public services, in particular the police and health services.

A single set of 198 national indicators for local authorities and local authority partnerships was announced as part of the Comprehensive Spending Review 2007, and consultation on detailed definitions of the set concluded on 21 December 2007, with the aim of announcing final decisions in February.

Local authorities across England are engaged in discussions with government offices on behalf of all government departments on the content of new-style local area agreements, which will have effect from 2008-09.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has responsibilities in relation to a number of local government services including, waste, street cleanliness, flood management and protection of the natural environment. The department has worked with local government to develop a streamlined set of 13 indicators for these services and for new areas such as climate change, as part of the new national indicator set.

The department welcomes and is fully engaged through its officials in government offices in the negotiation of the new-style LAAs.

The department retains very few “ring-fenced” funding arrangements, and these usually exist where it is agreed with local government that the arrangement is the most appropriate solution to targeting support for small projects dealing with, for example, contaminated land.