Issue date: 24 February 2004

ISSUE DATE: 24/02/04
The University of the West of England is playing a leading role in a consortium that has been commissioned by the Government to measure the overall effects of its attempts to improve the performance of local authorities. The study, which will provide an overview of how well current policy initiatives are working, is led by Professor Tony Bovaird (Bristol Business School, UWE) and Professor Steve Martin (Director of the Centre for Local and Regional Government Research at Cardiff University).

Professor Bovaird says, “The University is well placed to take on this role. We have many acknowledged experts in local government. Over the years we have been active in both research and in policy advice to central government. This research enables local government to have a voice about the government’s modernisation agenda and its effect at a local level. Our job is to gather all this information together and let the government know what effects their policies are having at local level and how changes are being made.”

The Government introduced more than 20 new policy initiatives designed to modernise and improve local government performance in Local Government White Papers in 1998 and 2001. Together these initiatives form the Local Government Modernisation Agenda (LGMA). This agenda has three key themes:

Modernising public services so that they are both of high quality and efficient. Policies here include Best Value, a mechanism for ensuring continuous improvement in service efficiency and quality and Local Public Service Agreements, three year contracts between central government and individual local authorities in whom services that are agreed local and national priorities receive additional funds to help them exceed existing performance targets.

Democratic renewal to try and re-connect local people with local government. Policy initiatives here include new voting arrangements and new forms of local authority decision making (including elected mayors) to stimulate interest.

Community leadership. This has involved giving local government new powers and new responsibilities so that it becomes a more effective vehicle for identifying and responding to community needs. Policy initiatives here include new powers of ‘economic, social and environmental well being’ which gives local government greater freedom to act to meet community needs, a duty of community strategy which requires local authorities to work with communities and other public and private sector bodies to identify local priorities and plan action; the Local Strategic Partnerships, new local bodies that bring together the key players in a locality (including community representatives) to take more effective action through partnership working.

UWE is a partner in four other research contracts looking at particular elements of these reforms. Dr Helen Sullivan of the Cities Research Centre in UWE, which is involved in three of the projects, says “Our aim is to make local government stronger by showing how it can respond better to the voice of local people and to the challenges of modern society. In doing this, we also want to make sure that relations between central government and local authorities are based on good evidence in the future, not just mutual distrust as was often the case in the past.”


Editor’s notes

The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (ODPM) has let over 15 research contracts as part of the LGMA programme so far. UWE is involved in five of them as follows:

Evaluation of Long-term Impact of Best Value 2001–2006. This study, which is worth £1.2 million, is evaluating whether the Best Value regime produces more efficient, effective and better quality services. This study is being undertaken by the Centre for Local & Regional Government Research at Cardiff University and is directed by Professor Steve Martin at Cardiff. Professor Tony Bovaird of Bristol Business School, UWE is an advisor to the research team.

Evaluation of Local Public Service Agreements 2002-2006. Evaluating whether and how this new agreement between central government and individual local authorities can result in significant improvement in services over and above existing performance targets. UWE and the Centre for Local and Regional Government Research at Cardiff University are partners in this project which is being led by the Office for Public Management. UWE’s role is significant (led by Dr Helen Sullivan with Laura Evans). Examples of LPSA target area include improving GCSE attainment levels, increasing numbers of people involved in adult education, increasing the level of bus use in localities, reducing re-offending rates of young people, increasing the proportion of household waste that is recycled. Value of project £1.2m.

Evaluation of New Powers of Economic, Social and Environmental Well Being 2003-2006. Helping local authorities develop the use of the new power and evaluating the extent to which it is used and how. Dr Helen Sullivan and Laura Evans of the Cities Research Unit, UWE are partners in this project, which is led by the University of Birmingham. Value of project: £600,000.

Evaluation of Local Strategic Partnerships 2002-2007. Evaluation of and support of Local Strategic Partnerships (LSPs) to help their development and assess their capacity to deliver change – ie a more streamlined partnership working and more effective stakeholder engagement in local priority setting. This consortium includes UWE (Professor Murray Stewart with Christine Lambert and Dr Helen Sullivan), Liverpool John Moores University and the Office for Public Management and is led by University of Warwick (Local Government Centre). Value of project approximately £1m.

Long-term meta-evaluation of the local government modernisation agenda 2003-2009. This overarching evaluation brings together and analysing the results from the individual elements of the Local Government Modernisation Agenda. The team is being led by Professor Tony Bovaird of Bristol Business School, UWE and Professor Steve Martin Director of the Centre for Local and Regional Government Research at Cardiff University. Dr Helen Sullivan and Dr David Sweeting are taking the lead in analyzing the impacts of current reforms on ‘community leadership’ by local authorities.

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