Current requirements of government policy

Community engagement is embedded into the latest policy to improve and modernise local government. These policies can be grouped under four main headings.

The new performance framework

The new performance framework applies to all partners working on local issues. Community engagement is at the heart of the following aspects:

The national indicator set (NIS)

The government has set 198 national indicators (NIs) for local improvement, many of which measure citizen engagement and community involvement. Each local area agreement (LAA) must choose up to 35 of these.

Every local strategic partnership (LSP) is expected to report on all 198 indicators. The indicators apply to all partners.

There are seven indicators in the national indicator set (NIS) that relate to community empowerment. Most LAAs have one or more of them:

  • NI 1 - percentage of people from different backgrounds who believe people get on well together in their local area
  • NI 2 - percentage of people who feel they belong to their neighbourhood
  • NI 3 - level of civic participation in the local area
  • NI 4 - percentage of people who feel they can influence decisions in their local area
  • NI 5 - overall general satisfaction with the local area
  • NI 6 - participation in regular volunteering
  • NI 7 - environment for a thriving third sector.

Find out more about NIs on the Communities and Local Government website:

The New Performance Framework for Local Authorities and Local Authority Partnerships'

Comprehensive area assessment

Comprehensive area assessment (CAA) replaces comprehensive performance assessment (CPA) as the new way of reporting how well communities are being served by public services. It will bring together many sources of evidence, one of which is the information from seven key inspectorates. These are the Audit Commission, Ofsted, HM Inspectorate of Prisons, the Healthcare Commission, Commission for Social Care Inspection, HM Inspectorate of Constabulary, HM Inspectorate of Probation.

The CAA will explicitly assess community engagement, looking at:

  • how well councils and their partners know and engage with their communities, including vulnerable and marginalised groups
  • the extent to which the priority outcomes for the local area have been defined with the involvement of the communities
  • how well communities have been involved in assessing whether these priority outcomes have been delivered
  • the effectiveness of local partners' activities in coordinating community engagement and communicating its impact on their decisions
  • how well partners cooperate to engage local people.

The seven inspectorates are also expected to assess how well public sector organisations:

  • engage with service users and others about the priorities for their services
  • collaborate with partners to engage communities about wellbeing and issues that require a partnership response.

The CAA will publish an annual report on their findings, specifically to spur community engagement and improve public sector performance.

Find out more about the CAA

New legal duties for the council and its partners

The Local Government Public Involvement in Health Act 2007 introduced two new duties:

  • the duty to inform, consult and involve
  • the duty to cooperate.

Duty to inform, consult and involve

Section 138 of the Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Act came into effect on 1 April 2009. It imposes a duty on all local authorities and best value authorities to involve local representatives when carrying out 'any of its functions' by providing information, consulting or ‘involving in another way'. Best value authorities include fire and rescue authorities, national park authorities, passenger transport authorities and such like. Authorities must consult a balanced selection of the individuals, groups, businesses or organisations the authority considers likely to be affected by, or have an interest in, the authority's function.

The duty is scoped widely - it applies to the delivery of services policy and decision making. Authorities will also need to consider how organisations to whom they contract out work will adhere to the principles underpinning the duty.

Furthermore, authorities must not discriminate in the way they inform, consult or involve local people. They must promote equal opportunities for people to engage and get involved.

Find out more about the 'duty to involve' - on the Community Development Foundation website

The duty to cooperate

The key aspects of this duty are as follows:

  • the local authority and partners in an LSP have a duty to negotiate and agree LAA targets
  • the LAA will state which partners have agreed to deliver on each target
  • partners who have agreed to deliver a target must demonstrate how they are planning to meet the target
  • partners will work through the LSP or thematic partnerships - such as the Crime and Disorder Reduction Partnership - to oversee collectively progress on all LAA targets.

New democratic duties for councils and councillors

There are two duties for local councils designed to give councillors and the public complementary powers to raise issues of local concern and demand action:

  • the duty to respond to petitions
  • the councillor 'call for action'.

Duty to respond to petitions

The upcoming Local Democracy, Economic Development and Construction Bill proposes a duty on local councils to respond to all petitions, including e-petitions, that relate to:

  • services they are responsible for
  • services where they share delivery responsibility.

Where Overview and Scrutiny decide there has been inadequate response to a petition, then the matter will be referred to the full council for a public debate. And if five per cent of the local population sign a petition, then it must be debated in full council.

Petitions will be noted as one of the evidence sources for the CAA.

Councillor 'call for action'

The Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Act 2007 gave all councillors the powers to require local service providers to respond to an issue of concern. Where a response is not adequate, councillors can refer the matter to Overview and Scrutiny.

Find out more about the councillor 'call for action'

Further duties to consult

In addition, councils and partners must consult citizens on all local strategies, such as the Sustainable Community strategy and the Local Development framework. Consultation for LAAs will inform the choice of targets so they reflect local priorities and concerns.

New empowerment tools

One of the underlying principles behind the CAA is that user and resident views should play a larger part in judging the performance of councils and their partners, thus helping improve responsiveness. New techniques for community engagement are being advocated by central government to ensure that councils and their partners have a deep understanding of local needs and aspirations. These techniques include participatory budgeting and asset transfer.

Read more about practical methods to engage your community

11 October 2013

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