The volume of top-down information demanded by Whitehall is being radically reduced so councils can concentrate on delivering frontline services and keeping the public informed Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles announced today.
Councils will no longer have to spend money reporting to government or hitting targets on things like how people do the school run, how long the morning rush hour takes, whether people have ‘access to nature’, if people know how to complain; if migrants have taken English lessons; or whether people enjoy the arts.
A new single local government data list is being published today. Mr Pickles is now asking local government and members of the public to have their say on the proposed list of information required before finalising the list to apply from April 2011.
Instead of reporting to Whitehall bureaucrats, Ministers want to increase people power through more accountable and transparent councils - such as by opening up their books up to the scrutiny of local press, residents and armchair auditors. Councils are expected to publish online all spending data over £500 by January.
Departments across Whitehall have been abolishing an array of bureaucratic burdens and unjustified data demands. Comprehensive Area Assessments have ended; the £5m Place Survey stopped; 66 pages of guidance on how to report efficiency shredded; over 4,700 targets scrapped including adults doing sport, neighbourhood belonging and a self assessment on climate progress.
Eric Pickles said:
For too long central Government has kept council staff hunched over desks crunching numbers and clipboard carriers asking the public intrusive questions so they can send reams of pointless paperwork back to Whitehall bean-counters - those days are over.
Instead of being bombarded by Whitehall, with no structure or understanding of the reporting burdens, I want to free councils from the revolving door of red tape. By creating a comprehensive list, of the least amount of data needed, we can let councils get back to their day jobs of eliminating waste and delivering frontline services.
If the information is not on the agreed list, councils will not be obliged to provide it. We trust councils to get on with the job without big brother looming over their shoulder double checking every detail.
In October Mr Pickles announced that as part of ending performance management of councils a single, comprehensive list of all the data local government would be created and that it would be subject to yearly reviews. If a request is made for data not on the list, councils would be under no obligation to collect and provide it.
The remaining information that central government requires from local government has been identified and put into the comprehensive list. Much of it is required for official statistics or in the public interest such as crime or house building figures, fire incidents and coastal erosion.
Ministers believe reducing red tape, which holds councils back, will free them to protect frontline services and focus spending on local priorities. The Government is committed to giving councils more freedoms and flexibilities.
Notes to editors
The Local Government Association estimates councils’ costs of complying with central government data requests as being £127m per annum (Delivering more for Less 2).
Comments on the list should be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org. The full list for consultation can be found at www.communities.gov.uk/localgovernment/decentralisation/tacklingburdens, along with a webform to allow readers to comment easily on specific items.
The draft list published today sets out the data collections and surveys central government departments require from local government for 2011-12. We are also today publishing a more detailed breakdown of the data required by DCLG, and we will provide similar detail for other government departments and other government bodies’ data requirements shortly.
So far we have identified 146 different data collections. But reducing data burdens is not simply about reducing this number. We believe that significant improvements can be made by streamlining how data is collected, reducing the size of some collections, and by councils themselves making data available to citizens, thereby reducing the need for central government to be involved. In an emergency situation government departments may still request information that isn’t on the list.
Ministers are clear that the benefits of creating a single list are:
a. For the first time, councils will have a clear list of what data they are expected to produce in a given year, allowing them to better manage their own resources and identify their own data needs.
b. Cataloguing the list as it stands is the first step to reducing the burden; without a comprehensive understanding of what is currently ask for, it is not possible to identify scope for reduce.
c. This will aid transparency, departments have been asked to give a reason for each data collection, to help draw out what central government is accountable for and where local government should be accountable to local people.
d. It will be easier for residents to find comparable data on local authorities using the single list, giving them a greater ability to hold central government and service providers to account.
The draft list will be available for comments, suggestions and development with the sector until 4 February. The final list will be published in time to take effect from April 2011. The list will be updated on a yearly basis.
The Place Survey questionnaire can be found at: www.communities.gov.uk/documents/localgovernment/doc/880053.doc (Word, 362kb, 12 pages).
The National Indicator Set can be found at: www.audit-commission.gov.uk/localgov/audit/nis/Pages/niguidancesearchresults.aspx?subcat=National indicator set (all 2008 to 2011)&b=niguidancesearch&ord=title&res=400&p=0 (external link).
A Comprehensive list of Local Area Agreements: www.localpriorities.communities.gov.uk (external link).
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