Edward Andersson wonders if we’ve focused on the wrong duty. Should we worry about losing the Duty to Prepare Sustainable Community Strategies?
Much has been written on this website and others about the Duty to Involve and its repeal. However as I pointed out in one of my previous blog there is much besides the Duty to Involve that is being scrapped in the new statuary guidance. One of these requirements that is being abolished is the Duty to Prepare Sustainable Community Strategies. In many ways it has been the neglected step child of the debate whilst the Duty to Involve has hogged most of the attention; at least in our little corner of the world.
Henry Peterson who has advised the LGA on localism recently sent me an email about the two duties. He said (and I quote): “Personally, I would not argue against the repeal of the Duty to Involve. More important and worrying, in my view, is the proposed repeal of the Duty to Prepare a Sustainable Community Strategy. It can be argued that this is a ‘red tape’ duty, and that councils who find SCS preparation and publication a useful exercise will continue to carry out this activity. But repeal of the duty takes away one of the few exercises which have been common across all English authorities for over a decade, and which the public had begun to connect with.”
So is Henry right? Will the Duty to Prepare Sustainable Community Strategies be the duty we will actually miss? Has Involve been distracted needlessly by the focus on the repeal of the Duty to Involve?
To answer this question we need to ask ourselves what the duty does and how it does it. The duty came into being with the Local Government Act 2000; for a more detailed description we can look at the now defunct 2008 ‘Creating Strong, Safe and Prosperous Communities’ guidance document:
“The purpose of a Sustainable Community Strategy is to set the overall strategic direction and long-term vision for the economic, social and environmental wellbeing of a local area – typically 10-20 years – in a way that contributes to sustainable development in the UK. It tells the ‘story of the place’ – the distinctive vision and ambition of the area, backed by clear evidence and analysis.”
The guide goes on to instruct that the council needs to seek the participation of ‘named partners’, including health and police partners.
The duty is vague on how to implement the strategy and on what the strategy should look like. Depending on your view this might be a good or a bad thing; leaving space for local initiatives or a meaningless paper exercise.
Some of the same criticisms of the Duty to Involve can probably be levelled at the Duty to Prepare Sustainable Community Strategies:
As a local resident or civil servant
Edward Andersson reflects on what the new version of the Best Value Statuary Guidance means for engagement and consultation.
The government has now developed its new Best Value Statutory Guidance to replace the 2008 statutory guidance “Creating Strong, Safe and Prosperous Communities”. The new guidance is a very short document and the government has retained its intention to repeal the Duty to Involve.
The consultation on this a few months back prompted vigorous debate on our blogs here, here and here as well as on the wider web . In large part this was because the government proposed to repeal the 2009 Duty to Involve.
The guidance is only two pages long. It does cover a lot of ground in those two pages. For those who worried that the government was intending to roll back engagement completely there is encouraging news; the document does mention the 1999 Duty to Consult and expresses that “Authorities must consult representatives of council tax payers, those who use or are likely to use services provided by the authority, and those appearing to the authority to have an interest in any area within which the authority carries out functions. Authorities should include local voluntary and community organisations and small businesses in such consultation. This should apply at all stages of the commissioning cycle, including when considering the decommissioning of services.”
Davy Jones has written a good blog on what the Guidance says on engagement; including the full text of the law which is very useful.
Personally I’m worried by where the guidance takes us, purely from an involvement and engagement practitioner.
I’d like to see government as a whole shifting more towards ongoing, relationship driven engagement, as opposed to short term, one off issues driven consultation. I don’t think this new guidance does this. It does say that “authority should actively engage the organisation and service users as early as possible before making a decision” and hopefully they will make use of the excellent Engagement Cycle to make sure that consultations around commissioning are part of an ongoing dialogue as opposed to one off effort. Realistically though I do worry that a narrow duty to consult may mean more last minute rubber stamp consultation and less of what we actually need: genuine dialogue between public services and the people that use them in a locality.
That’s my take on it; I’d be very interested to hear your views on the government’s new guidance.
This blog is a repository for posts I have made over the years at Involve as well as more personal reflections.