Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government
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Councils to develop new ways to keep their citizens better informed

Councils to develop new ways to keep their citizens better informed

COMMUNITIES AND LOCAL GOVERNMENT News Release (077) issued by COI News Distribution Service on 6 April 2009

Interactive consultation on planning applications are just one of the innovative ways ten councils around the country are making it easier for people to get information about their local council services, Communities Secretary Hazel Blears announced today (Monday, 6 April).

A mix of councils in rural and urban areas are sharing £620,000 to pilot schemes that provide better local information for an estimated one million people, ranging from crime maps in Gloucestershire to a website for parents and carers of disabled children in Cambridgeshire.

As well as seeing an improvement in access to services, residents in the ten pilot areas will benefit from more opportunities to influence local decision making as councils will have to be more transparent and accountable. Lessons learnt from the pilots, including in the use of the internet and new digital technology, will be shared to help all councils keep residents informed more effectively and efficiently.

Hazel Blears said: "Excellent public services depend on providing not only resources but ensuring that people can easily use those services. New technology provides an opportunity for councils to have a real dialogue with people in their area.

"These pilots will help local residents make better use of the services available to them, as well as holding their councils to account for the quality of those services.

"It is vital that public services are at the forefront of using new technology to allow people to easily share information about their public services and have a real say in how they are run."

Today's announcement is for the first round of pilots that will be followed by a second round in the Spring. The successful councils are

* London Borough of Barnet - will create an online consultation tool showing information on planning applications in a more useful format. It will allow users to track applications, comment on decisions and communicate with other users.

* Birmingham City Council - will develop an online community that will enable local people to influence the planning and delivery of services.

* Cambridgeshire County Council - will develop a one stop shop website for use by parents and carers of disabled children that will include specialist information from third sector organisations.

* Gloucestershire County Council - will create 18 online community notice boards for neighbourhoods that will provide information on local services and allow people to contact service providers. There will also be dedicated space on notice boards for partners such as police who will provide crime maps for the area.

* Kent County Council - will provide online information on local services in a way that allows people to choose which areas of information they use to provide a customised online service.

* Lancashire County Council - will provide tailored information on support to citizens affected by the downturn such as advice about debt, jobs and training.

* Leeds City Council - will create an interactive information site for older and disabled users of adult social care that will enable users to find out about different options for services near where they live and see the reviews of services by other older and disabled people in their area.

* Liverpool City Council - will develop the 'My Neighbourhood' portal that will allow people to request services, report problems in their neighbourhood and track how they are being dealt with.

* Norfolk County Council - will create community websites to provide up-to-date local information and support local campaigns.

* Wigan Council - will provide an interactive database to help people find opportunities for local volunteering and participation.

Notes to editors

1. Chapter 3 of the 2008 White Paper, Communities in Control: Real People, Real Power, published in July 2008, set out how the government would help local authorities to provide better information to their citizens on local services, performance and opportunities to get involved in their local areas. The Timely Information to Citizens project was set up to take this forward.

2. As well as funding pilots, the Timely Information to Citizens project has commissioned research into which current methods of providing information to citizens are most effective at informing and empowering citizens, and is supporting the development of a good practice toolkit at http://www.esd.org.uk/informingcitizens to help local authorities to develop more effective ways of informing their citizens.

3. A second round of pilots will be announced in May. The majority of pilots are expected to be up and running by Summer 2009 and will be subjected to an independent evaluation which will report in 2010, feeding back the lessons learnt into the good practice toolkit for the benefit of other local authorities.

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