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16 July 2011 | Adam Leach
The government needs to provide greater detail on how giving communities the power to commission third-party services will work in practice, to allay fears it could be mismanaged.
Under the Open Public Services proposals announced this week by Prime Minister David Cameron, the power to commission certain public services, such as public transport and support services for ‘families with multiple problems’, will be transferred from local authorities to local communities through parish councils or neighbourhood networks.
Outlining the proposals during a speech in London the Prime Minister said: “Public services were centralised with all the right intentions: to drive progress through from on-high, to keep tabs on how that progress was going with targets and rules and inspections. But the impact of this has been incredibly damaging.”
Peter Howarth, chief executive of the Society of Procurement Officers in Local Government (SOPO) welcomed the proposals, but worries there is a risk of commissioning being mismanaged. “My slight concern that I’ve got about it is that it needs to be done in a managed way, not a free-for-all,” he told SM.
“I have some qualms about just how it would be managed in terms of ensuring what we actually have delivered is what is needed, and of the right quality.
“I’d like to see the nitty-gritty of [the proposals]. How is it really going to be run? It seems a bit too woolly.”
Referring to local councillors as the “democratic face” of local authorities, Howarth questioned that the needs of local communities are not already, or cannot be, met by their delegated public representatives. He also said that he hoped it wouldn’t lead to a “public sector version of ‘the X Factor’.”
The government will now conduct a period of consultation, open until September, before announcing the confirmed proposals in November.