Publications and reports
This section of the website lists all the reports and papers published by the Inquiry to date.
Place-shaping: a shared ambition for the future of local government
Executive summary (2,962 kb)
Summary of recommendations (126 kb)
Complete document without annexes (5,521 kb)
Summary of recommendations (126 kb)
Complete document without annexes (5,521 kb)
National prosperity, local choice and civic engagement
Interim report and consultation
Document index - links to all the documents published by the Lyons Inquiry
Lyons Inquiry Public Deliberation Events: Executive summary
Nine one-day deliberative workshops were held during July and August 2006 to explore the views of a cross-section of the general public with regard to some of the issues being considered by the Lyons Inquiry into local government. The events were held in the following Lyons Inquiry case study areas: Barnet, Bristol, Essex (participants living in the Chelmsford area), Hartlepool, Nottingham, Sheffield, Shropshire (held in Shrewsbury but with participants recruited from across the county), Southampton and Trafford. A total of 310 people attended the events. OPM designed and facilitated the events in conjunction with the Lyons Inquiry team. The local authorities in each of the case study areas recruited participants to broadly reflect the local population (including gender, age and ethnicity). In most areas, recruitment was carried out from citizens panels; where panels were not available, participants were recruited directly in the community. In both processes, demographic targets were used to ensure that the demographic profile of participants at the events broadly reflected their communities.
Each event lasted a full day and consisted of plenary discussions, small group workshops in which participants discussed issues in greater depth, and action planning workshops. During the plenary sessions, participants also used an electronic decision support system to respond to questions, vote on priorities, and trade-off proposals to the Inquiry.
The findings presented in this report are based on a full analysis of the small and large-group discussions and the electronic votes and trade-offs. Although the composition of participants broadly reflects the demographic and social make-up of their local communities, readers should bear in mind that participants were given the opportunity to discuss and engage with each other over a relatively extended period. Findings from this work should not be seen as generalisable to the whole population. Deliberative approaches such as the ones used as part of these workshops are intended to gain deeper insights into public experiences and preferences, and probe beyond what often are more superficial attitudes (which often will represent peoples top-of-mind views and expectations of local government). Both approaches are important to arrive at an understanding of what local residents want from local government.
A comparison of these results and other research from the Inquiry will help to provide a fuller understanding of public opinion on these issues.
Current understanding of local government
Most participants had only a partial awareness of the wide range of activities carried out by local authorities and were often unclear of the difference between different tiers of government and particularly the roles of the regions. Most participants were able to identify who was responsible for delivering key services including libraries, social services, parking controls and housing. Where there was generally more confusion was about whether local councils had responsibility for services such as GP services and policing.
Most participants were surprised to learn that, on average, only 26% of a councils funding comes from council tax, with many thinking the proportion was more than half.
After discussing the current and possible future role of local government, there was a strong sense across the nine case study sites that councils should have a place shaping role. Participants felt that the local authority is the body that is best placed to understand the needs of local areas and to put those needs first. Where there are multiple tiers of government, participants generally felt that it was the lowest tier that was most likely to represent their interests and be most easily held to account for the decisions made. Participants in many areas were clearly proud of where they live and value its distinctive characteristics. The council was seen as having a role in protecting what is good about an area and in addressing things in need of improvement as well as providing services to the people who live there.
While participants believed that central government should have some strategic role, most felt it was often too overbearing, allowing their local council too little room for manoeuvre to act in what it saw as the local interest. Many thought that local government simply does not have sufficient power to shape an area and in many cases is little more than a service provider or service commissioner.
Most participants felt that local government should become the convenor of all bodies interested in an area and should have the legal power to bring people round the table to decide on priorities and implement decisions. They felt that, when decisions need to be taken, local government should pro-actively seek the views of local people but have the final say when there are competing interests, while making sure the reasons for a decision are properly explained and communicated to local people. Participants also looked to their local council to represent the views of local people to other agencies.
Participants believed that it was vital for local government to have strong planning powers. They felt that, at present, local councils did not do enough strategic planning over what an area should look and feel like. Rather, they tended to react to planning applications, but often placed few conditions on them, did little to enforce any conditions and had decisions overturned at appeal.
Consulting with local people
Participants expressed a strong view that local councils need to improve their consultation with local people. In particular, many felt that even when their views were sought they were not listened to, and that councils rarely explained why they had reached the decision that they had.
They also wanted councils actively to reach out to those people who might not ordinarily come forward to give their views. This was seen as being particularly important when setting the vision and overall direction for local areas.
National standardisation or local flexibility?
Opinion was very firmly that there should be neither total standardisation nor total local flexibility in service provision, but rather minimum national standards above which councils would provide a better level of service where it was wanted or needed. Participants wanted to ensure that there was an element of national consistency and fairness and protection via minimum standards, but the flexibility to provide services in the way that best met local needs.
Minimum national standards would ensure a fair level of provision regardless of where one lived. They would also provide an important safety net and assurance that standards will never be really bad in any part of the country: this was felt to be particularly important where vulnerable groups such as older people were concerned. It was also stressed that a minimum standard should be a minimum and not a maximum standard.
The preference for minimum national standards, rather than total standardisation under which all councils would have to provide the same level of service, also reflected a strong desire for some flexibility to respond to local circumstances in service priorities and delivery. Local councils were also felt to be more accessible to local people than central government is; nevertheless, many participants felt that local councils were generally not particularly accessible or in touch with local people.
Participants also felt that local flexibility could lead to more innovation and a sense of ambition and ownership - finding local solutions for local problems - although some wondered if local authorities had these qualities, fearing that they were rather bureaucratic and inefficient.
Participants felt that there is a major role for councils to play in working with local people to help encourage changes in behaviour that will save money or improve efficiency. This might include encouraging people to recycle more, walk to school or to 'adopt' a local park. In some areas, such as public health and waste management, participants thought that local people should take more responsibility for dealing with these issues themselves, although the council still had a role in encouraging and facilitating people to do so.
A wide range of issues over which participants felt local councils ought to have more control were raised during discussions. Some of these would require more formal powers being granted to local councils, whilst others might simply mean local councils asserting existing powers more effectively than they currently do. The areas where participants were particularly keen to see local councils having more control or playing a co-ordinating role were: planning and development control; public transport; post-16 training; neighbourhood community safety teams; and childrens services.
Participants generally supported a shift away from council tax as the primary mechanism through which local people pay for local services. Any new mechanisms would need to incorporate: the rebalancing of social inequalities inherent in the current council tax mechanism; allowances for special needs and related targeting of service improvements and exemptions from charges; and a stronger link to the ability to pay (both in charging and taxation).
More flexibilities and responsibilities for local authorities to raise income were generally supported, provided that the money is targeted at specific improvements. It also needs to happen at the appropriate level (participants recognised the importance of subsidiarity in responsibility and in funding) and with an accompanying greater level of public involvement and transparency. Charging was seen as a mechanism which will gain in importance.
The Lyons Inquiry has now closed. Please direct your queries to Communities and Local Government or HM Treasury.
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