Cutting the red tape could save councils millions

September 14, 2010 11:29 AM

Cut-red-tape Yesterday Hammersmith and Fulham council released a list of 105 pieces of regulation that they would like to see scrapped. 105 – that’s a long list. Yet Cllr Harry Phibbs of H&F reckons it could be even longer. But they’ve put it together to get the ball rolling, and will be submitting it to the Government.
 
There are some great suggestions in there. For example, abolishing Sunday trading laws. This will free up businesses to trade if they wish, giving a much needed boost to the economy. If shops can open between 10am and 6pm, why not earlier or later? It doesn’t make sense any more – high streets are generally busy places on a Sunday, and there will be thousands of small shop owners that would dearly love the opportunity to stay open for business. Given that many may have had a tough time seeing out the recession, they’ll need extra support through the recovery – restricting the hours at which they can trade does not offer them the freedom to make the choices that will help them get back on their feet.
 
Another example is a call to abolish annual parking reports. Councils currently have to provide a report about their parking enforcement activities. There’s simply no need for councils to compile them – we’ve produced a comprehensive list of how much councils recouped in parking fines over two financial years. The lesson is that spending and income transparency will ensure that residents have full knowledge of how their council are performing in this area. A good example was the comparison between Sunderland and Newcastle in our report – despite having similar daytime populations the two councils recouped a vastly different amount in fines. Giving residents this kind of information allows them to hold their councils to account, and the local media did exactly that in the North East when we released the report.

Abolishing the Children and Young People’s Plan is another good call. It’s compliance that bogs down council departments that would prefer to be getting on with the job of actually looking after their young people. Why should bureaucrats in Whitehall tell, say, Oldham council how they should manage their children and young people’s services? The short answer is they shouldn’t. Note too that according to the Every Child Matters website, this Plan “should inform and be informed by the Sustainable Community Strategy (SCS) and the Joint Strategic Needs Assessment (JSNA).” Both of these acronymed regulations are down for the chop in H&F's list too. The extent to which these statutory requirements become intertwined shows that bureaucracy begets bureaucracy.
 
And the list also says to scrap the requirement to place no smoking signs at each entrance to smoke-free premises. Not much else to add really, it’s a ridiculous requirement.
 
There is a slightly worrying inclusion in H&F's list regarding FOI. They say it takes massive resources to comply with the time-scales and requirements set out in the legislation. The implication is that they would like more time to process requests. Twenty working days is enough time as it is. Increased spending transparency should also negate many requests in the longer term as the council can simply refer people to the spending documents.

But for the most part, the suggestions are eminently sensible. Having spoken to many councillors and senior managers within local authorities, I’ve heard first hand the desperation to be released from the bureaucratic shackles of central government. Lots of money would be saved – H&F reckon £200 million across the country. All this from a more – dare I say it – common sense approach to local government.
 
In the long term though, real power invariably means more control over the purse strings. Fiscal decentralisation will mean that councils will have the autonomy to make genuinely local spending decisions, without being hamstrung by ring-fenced grants and endless statutory requirements. (See this paper by our Research Fellow Mike Denham for more details of the economic benefits of fiscal decentralisation.) If genuine localism is to be achieved it seems as if it will happen in phases. Removing great swathes of bureaucracy and red tape would be a very good and significant first step. Businesses could get on with doing business, council staff could get on with their jobs and local authorities could get on with providing the services that local people want. All of this without having to constantly report back to civil servants in Westminster, or fulfil some dubious target set by the department.Cut-red-tape Yesterday Hammersmith and Fulham council released a list of 105 pieces of regulation that they would like to see scrapped. 105 – that’s a long list. Yet Cllr Harry Phibbs of H&F reckons it could be even longer. But they’ve put it together to get the ball rolling, and will be submitting it to the Government.
 
There are some great suggestions in there. For example, abolishing Sunday trading laws. This will free up businesses to trade if they wish, giving a much needed boost to the economy. If shops can open between 10am and 6pm, why not earlier or later? It doesn’t make sense any more – high streets are generally busy places on a Sunday, and there will be thousands of small shop owners that would dearly love the opportunity to stay open for business. Given that many may have had a tough time seeing out the recession, they’ll need extra support through the recovery – restricting the hours at which they can trade does not offer them the freedom to make the choices that will help them get back on their feet.
 
Another example is a call to abolish annual parking reports. Councils currently have to provide a report about their parking enforcement activities. There’s simply no need for councils to compile them – we’ve produced a comprehensive list of how much councils recouped in parking fines over two financial years. The lesson is that spending and income transparency will ensure that residents have full knowledge of how their council are performing in this area. A good example was the comparison between Sunderland and Newcastle in our report – despite having similar daytime populations the two councils recouped a vastly different amount in fines. Giving residents this kind of information allows them to hold their councils to account, and the local media did exactly that in the North East when we released the report.

Abolishing the Children and Young People’s Plan is another good call. It’s compliance that bogs down council departments that would prefer to be getting on with the job of actually looking after their young people. Why should bureaucrats in Whitehall tell, say, Oldham council how they should manage their children and young people’s services? The short answer is they shouldn’t. Note too that according to the Every Child Matters website, this Plan “should inform and be informed by the Sustainable Community Strategy (SCS) and the Joint Strategic Needs Assessment (JSNA).” Both of these acronymed regulations are down for the chop in H&F's list too. The extent to which these statutory requirements become intertwined shows that bureaucracy begets bureaucracy.
 
And the list also says to scrap the requirement to place no smoking signs at each entrance to smoke-free premises. Not much else to add really, it’s a ridiculous requirement.
 
There is a slightly worrying inclusion in H&F's list regarding FOI. They say it takes massive resources to comply with the time-scales and requirements set out in the legislation. The implication is that they would like more time to process requests. Twenty working days is enough time as it is. Increased spending transparency should also negate many requests in the longer term as the council can simply refer people to the spending documents.

But for the most part, the suggestions are eminently sensible. Having spoken to many councillors and senior managers within local authorities, I’ve heard first hand the desperation to be released from the bureaucratic shackles of central government. Lots of money would be saved – H&F reckon £200 million across the country. All this from a more – dare I say it – common sense approach to local government.
 
In the long term though, real power invariably means more control over the purse strings. Fiscal decentralisation will mean that councils will have the autonomy to make genuinely local spending decisions, without being hamstrung by ring-fenced grants and endless statutory requirements. (See this paper by our Research Fellow Mike Denham for more details of the economic benefits of fiscal decentralisation.) If genuine localism is to be achieved it seems as if it will happen in phases. Removing great swathes of bureaucracy and red tape would be a very good and significant first step. Businesses could get on with doing business, council staff could get on with their jobs and local authorities could get on with providing the services that local people want. All of this without having to constantly report back to civil servants in Westminster, or fulfil some dubious target set by the department.

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