NEWS19 April 2011

Government set to scrap duty to involve

Government UK

UK— The duty to involve – a statutory requirement for local authorities to consult residents and interested parties and inform them about the running of local services – is set to be scrapped under proposals put forward by the Department for Communities and Local Government (CLG).

The department wants to introduce new statuatory guidance on the duty of best value, under which “authorities should consider overall value, including environmental and social value, when reviewing service provision”.

CLG’s draft best-value guidance says consultation will still be required, pointing to section 3( 2 ) of the Local Government Act of 1999. The draft guidance states that “before deciding how to fulfil their best value duty… authorities are required to consult a wide range of local persons, including local voluntary and community organisations and businesses.”

But Davy Jones, a consultant who works with local authorities on citizen involvement projects, says the Local Government Act is a “weak piece of legislation”. The duty to involve was considerably more robust in stating when consultation and involvement is required – applying to both “routine functions, as well as significant one-off decisions” affecting services.

However, Edward Andersson, deputy directory of the public engagement advocacy group Involve, believes the existing duty is too vague. “It covers everything and thus nothing.”

Writing in his blog Andersson says: “Perhaps a general duty to involve should be replaced with a more specific duty, such as a right to be involved in budget decisions?”

Jones, though, suspects budget decisions have much to do with the timing of the proposal to scrap the duty, coming as it does ahead of significant cuts to local services. Writing in his blog, Jones says: “Cynically, you have to wonder whether the government feared that the duty provided those fighting local cutbacks with a potential legal weapon to prevent them and hence acted to get rid of it.”

The CLG consultation is open until 14 June.