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Study recommends the formation of local public accounts committees

Councils should form local public accounts committees according to the Association for Public Service Excellence (APSE).

The call comes following the publication of the report ‘Bringing order to chaos. How does local government hold to account agencies delivering public services?’ based on research carried out for APSE by the local governance research unit at De Montford University.

The report argues: “For great swathes of the public sector there is no direct line of public accountability to communities and no direct electoral legitimacy for the polices developed, decisions made or resources employed.”

However, it adds that although an “absence of a democratic link or source of legitimacy” adds to the chaos of governing networks,” the Grenfell tragedy showed that local government must not escape rigorous public accountability, even where it may not directly run, provide or oversee a service.

It also recommends that councils provide adequate support for all councillors in their role in holding external agencies to account, and that securing public accountability must be developed as a role for all councillors.

The research also calls for “robust accountability processes” for all arm’s length bodies created by councils, with mechanisms in place where councillors are able to challenge, question and influence the actions of arm’s length bodies.

A local “governance framework” policy document should be produced by councils, identifying all organisations that the council interacts with and creating a shared vision of the development of public services across its area.

In addition, a “governance forum” should be created, where all the organisations that a council interacts with can meet to ensure a coordinated approach to public service delivery and long term planning for its service development, as well as contributing to the governance framework.

The report also recommends that, through an extension of the principle of “duty to cooperate,” there should be a legal requirement for all public service providers to engage with local government “at the earliest possible time” when developing policy and making decisions regarding public services.

Paul O’Brien, chief executive of APSE, said: “Too often we witness agencies acting in ways which can undermine the needs of local areas.

“By giving councils a much broader role in pulling together disparate local actors, we can start to enhance joined up public policy outcomes; whether that benefits the local economy or health outcomes for local people, joining the dots is essential to ensure better accountability and better outcomes for local people.”

Top image: tadamichi

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