Richards on... seismic shift for councils

The world of local government is shifting on its axis and not just as a result of the sheer weight of paper coming out of Whitehall.

The emerging improvement culture is causing a substantial shift of its own.

The local government white paper shows how this will be achieved in the move from the comprehensive performance assessment (CPA) regime towards outcome-focused, sector-led comprehensive area assessments (CAAs). This means that local government will take responsibility for identifying needs and making improvements. It marks a major change, one that will have substantial implications for planners. The role of peer review and support will be central.

In the transition from CPAs to CAAs, outcome targets will be set out in local area agreements (LAAs). The government's concern about continued quality of performance is reflected in the new national indicator NI157, which looks remarkably like BV109. Even so, we need to ensure that LAA targets include elements that give planners the opportunity to show how they can create real change in communities. If this can be achieved it will put planning centre stage in central and local government's delivery frameworks.

But are planning services ready to embrace this opportunity? Is your service fit for purpose? Could you identify areas for improvement and change without an inspector telling you? And do you know where to access help on making changes? While the challenge itself is inevitable, there is an opportunity for planning services to lead the way. If you are struggling to understand how, have a look at the Planning Advisory Service (PAS) self-assessment benchmark tool at

Sarah Richards is head of the PAS.

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