This report written by Saffron Woodcraft (James) discusses the potential for communities to play a significant role in designing, planning and delivering local public services.
Improving the quality of local public services is a high priority for government. It has recognised that poor quality services are concentrated in particular neighbourhoods and much can be done to improve local services by involving people in decisions about how services are organised and delivered to their community. Neighbourhood management and other
partnerships that bring together local people and mainstream service providers to agree on
how to improve services have proved to be an effective way of tackling problems and
reshaping how mainstream resources are directed to local needs.
The forthcoming Local Government White Paper is likely to contain proposals for giving neighbourhoods new powers and tools to improve the quality of services they receive locally, including charters and agreements to set out service levels or outcomes, and community calls to action that will enable people to hold service providers to account when services fail or under-perform.
We believe there is a strong argument for more far-reaching and radical changes to how public services are organised and delivered to communities in the future. It is clear that delivering the quality and choice of public services that people want cannot be achieved by central government alone and that there is much to be gained from involving people and communities in the process of designing and delivering local public services.
In this paper we set out recommendations for the localisation of decision-making about public services, and in some cases, where appropriate, the devolution of service delivery to community control. This is a long-term vision that will require a double transfer of power from central government to local authorities to enable them to play a more strategic role in public service delivery, and from local government to neighbourhoods to empower people to make decisions about the services they use in their communities everyday. Our analysis suggests that widespread localisation of public services could bring significant performance improvements and deliver a wide range of benefits to communities; among others, giving people more control over the issues and services that affect their daily lives and creating opportunities for local enterprise and economic regeneration by opening up new local markets for public services. We argue that to achieve such localisation there has to be an effective risk management framework to ensure this agenda does not unwittingly give rise to parochialism or local division in communities.