Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government
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Community contracts to drive better services

Community contracts to drive better services

COMMUNITIES AND LOCAL GOVERNMENT News Release (013) issued by The Government News Network on 22 January 2008

COMMUNITIES SECRETARY HAZEL BLEARS announced plans for new 'community contracts' across England today - giving communities the opportunity to agree deals and written guarantees with their council on a wide range of service standards from tackling drug dealing on estates, bin collection, clearing graffiti and street cleaning.

In a speech to the New Local Government Network she announced 'community contracts' between local communities and their council that are to be piloted in twelve areas across the country in Sunderland, Gateshead, Barnsley, Oldham, Lewisham, King's Lynn, Blyth, Kirklees, Brighton, Manton, Kidderminster and London's South Bank.

The contracts are voluntary agreements between local people and town halls that will allow residents to set minimum standards, bargain with councils for extra services and put in place checks on quality.

She also called for a new debate raising the question of whether in the future these should be extended and linked to new forms of 'redress' where services fall short.

Redress could range from an investigation into why service standards have not been delivered, a right of written response or a commitment from a council to rectify a problem for lower level breaches to considering financial compensation, or funding to correct the problem in the minority of cases of serious and persistent failure.

In return, local people would be asked to play their part. For example, in return for council pledges on improving parks, clearing graffiti and tackling drug dealers, they will also be able to negotiate commitments by local people who could agree to report incidents of anti-social behaviour, maintain grass verges or even takeover the running and management of some council services.

The proposal for voluntary contracts are part of what Ministers have called a 'reinvention in the way govern', giving local people greater say in their communities. Evidence shows where people are fully involved and consulted satisfaction and standards of local services rise.

There are a small number of areas in the country where the approach is already working - for example, in Staffordshire Moorlands through a local Community Pride Agreement that has helped to cut arson, and improve both the reporting of crime and people's confidence in local policing.

On a smaller scale in Peel Hall Manchester, 60 residents are receiving free hanging baskets for the front of their houses in return for agreeing to water them, and for their neighbours when they are away.

Announcing the pilots and new guidance to councils on how to establish local contracts or 'charters', Hazel Blears also said exploring methods of redress when standards are not met would ensure greater accountability to local people.

Hazel Blears said:
"There isn't a single service or development in Britain which hasn't been improved by actively involving local people who are best placed to spot problems and come up with ideas to solve them, whether its tackling anti-social behaviour or litter, or providing more services at a time people want them.

"Charters or so-called 'community contracts' will help councils, police and health authorities and local people to work together in tackling the issues that matter, improving their local neighbourhoods and improve public satisfaction.

"Areas right across the country coming forward to sign local contracts with their community. Those who really believe in delivering for the people they serve should also have the confidence to commit to some form of redress if those agreements are broken.

"People rightly expect a good standard of service and redress when things go wrong. When trains are delayed they know they are entitled to refunds or compensation. Improving transparency for other public services on a similar scale will not only improve standards but will also increase confidence in local democracy."

Local services have continued to improve in recent years: last year, 79 per cent of all councils received either a good or excellent rating, up from 66 per cent in 2006, and just a half in 2001. Redress schemes will help to ensure that persistent failure can be tackled quickly and effectively.

Research shows involving local people more closely in decisions is closely linked to satisfaction with council services. In 2005, 70 per cent of those who agreed that they could influence local decisions, also said they trusted the local council, compared to nearly half of people who said they did not think they could influence local decisions.

Notes to Editors

The new guidance How to develop a local charter: A guide for local authorities is published today and available here:

The new guidance will encourage and show councils how to get more people involved in local decision-making on a variety of issues, from tackling anti-social behaviour to maintaining parks and open spaces.

Each charter will be tailored to local needs and expectations and differ in name, scope and size, from agreements across a range of services to small scale, single issue brochures. Typically, the local agreements might include:

* Written statements, pledges or targets from local service providers setting the quality of local council, NHS, fire and police services. The agreements might set out a list of 'must-have' services and clear expectations on service opening times.

* Community pacts - charters setting agreements for individual residents to take on jobs traditionally carried out by the local council, such as mowing grass verges, in exchange for extra local authority services elsewhere, including more regular refuse disposal.

* Monitoring agreements - arrangements where local resident volunteers, or 'neighbourhood champions' monitor the performance of services as a means of improving satisfaction.

* Resident takeovers - charters allowing co-ops of local people to take-over the running and management of some services. Town or Parish Councils, as well as residents associations and community groups will be able to bid to deliver specific services.

* Roles and responsibilities - brochures spelling out the roles and responsibilities of local service providers, such as the council, Primary Care Trust or Registered Social Landlord, as well as information on services, such as response rates and contact details

Community groups, Parish Councils or residents associations will be free to request or broker the charters, drawing on their knowledge of local concerns and links with local people.

Councils will also be encouraged to engage with 'hard-to-reach' groups and ensure that charters reflect the views of local people.

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