Local Government Reform Update
There has been a great deal of uncertainty and postponement surrounding local government reform and the implementation of the Review of Public Administration that was first launched in 2002. Movement towards reducing the current 26 councils to “11 council model” and the transfer of functions to them has seen very little progress.
Following on from the proposals of the Executive’s decision on 13 March 2008 on the future shape of local government, the Department of Environment (DoE) sought views on its policy proposals for the reform of local government and launched the Local Government Reform Policy Proposals Consultation, which closed on Friday 11 March 2011.
At the workshop Louise McNeill and Clare McGrath from Community Places provided an overview of the DoE consultation proposals on the Local Government Reform Policy to a full room of participants from the voluntary and community sector.
Under the Local Government Reform Policy proposals councils are expected to:
- Consult and co-operate with all bodies responsible for providing public services
- Engage with the community, other bodies and individuals in planning the provision of public services
- Councils are required to publish, review and amend community plans to reflect changes in their area
- Publish reports on community planning including public service improvements
- Government departments required to “promote” community planning and “have regard to” community plans
- Other public bodies required to “participate in and assist” community planning
- Detailed guidance to support councils to deliver effective community planning will be produced by the Department
Download a copy of the Community Places briefing paper on the Local Government Reform and Community Planning Policy Proposals
The Local Government Reform Policy proposals also include allowing councils to exercise ‘power of well being’, which will:
- Enable councils to take forward actions not already the responsibility of another agency (unless that agency has given explicit agreement) to promote or improve the well-being of their area.
- Not allow use of the power of well being for anything it is unable to do as a result of other legal restrictions.
- DoE intends to issue detailed guidance which councils would be required to have due regard to.
Ethical Standards & Code of Conduct:
- DoE proposes to introduce a new ethical standards regime for local government.
- It is proposed that all complaints regarding ethical standards in district councils would initially be referred to the Northern Ireland Commissioner for Complaints to decide if a breach has occurred and to determine how it should be investigated.
- A minor breach would be referred to the local council for resolution while a serious breach would be retained for investigation by the Commissioner’s Office.
It was agreed at the workshop that the introduction of a council led and facilitated community planning process and the introduction of the power of well-being is to be supported however some points for consideration include:
- Further clarity is required on who will be involved and how the process will be implemented within community planning.
- Councils should be legally required to engage with community bodies, individuals and all public and community service providers. Engagement should be timely and meaningful.
- DoE should issue guidance for community planning that sets out quality standards for community engagement, the provision for local and thematic community plans and steps to ensure that community planning structures are fully representative of all community bodies.
- How progress is assessed against community plans needs to be identified.
- Capacity building for participation, supporting expertise, that will work across boundaries, that is sufficiently resourced needs to be explored.
- Support and emphasise the need for wording “promote and have regard to” (government departments) and participate in and assist (Public Bodies)” and extended to include reference to delivering community planning.
- A clear statutory link should be established between community planning and land use (or spatial) planning.
- Department should issue guidance to support the use of the power of well-being.
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