Published on September 14, 2011

The Other Duty

By Edward Andersson

Edward Andersson is European Associate for Involve and an established expert on methods of participatory decision making. He set up Participationcompass.org – one of Europe’s leading public engagement sites, and has advised a number of organisations on public engagement strategies, including the Home Office, the European Commission, the OECD, WHO Europe, UNDP Turkey and numerous Local Authorities and Health Trusts.

Picture of  a recyling logo by Kevinrosseel (Via MorgueFile)Edward Andersson wonders if we’ve focused on the wrong duty. Should we worry about losing the Duty to Prepare Sustainable Community Strategies?

Much has been written on this website and others about the Duty to Involve and its repeal. However as I pointed out in one of my previous blog there is much besides the Duty to Involve that is being scrapped in the new statuary guidance.  One of these requirements that is being abolished is the Duty to Prepare Sustainable Community Strategies. In many ways it has been the neglected step child of the debate whilst the Duty to Involve has hogged most of the attention; at least in our little corner of the world.

Henry Peterson who has advised the LGA on localism recently sent me an email about the two duties. He said (and I quote): “Personally, I would not argue against the repeal of the Duty to Involve. More important and worrying, in my view, is the proposed repeal of the Duty to Prepare a Sustainable Community Strategy. It can be argued that this is a ‘red tape’ duty, and that councils who find SCS preparation and publication a useful exercise will continue to carry out this activity. But repeal of the duty takes away one of the few exercises which have been common across all English authorities for over a decade, and which the public had begun to connect with.”

So is Henry right? Will the Duty to Prepare Sustainable Community Strategies be the duty we will actually miss? Has Involve been distracted needlessly by the focus on the repeal of the Duty to Involve?

To answer this question we need to ask ourselves what the duty does and how it does it. The duty came into being with the Local Government Act 2000; for a more detailed description we can look at the now defunct 2008 ‘Creating Strong, Safe and Prosperous Communities’ guidance document:

“The purpose of a Sustainable Community Strategy is to set the overall strategic direction and long-term vision for the economic, social and environmental wellbeing of a local area – typically 10-20 years – in a way that contributes to sustainable development in the UK. It tells the ‘story of the place’ – the distinctive vision and ambition of the area, backed by clear evidence and analysis.”

The guide goes on to instruct that the council needs to seek the participation of ‘named partners’, including health and police partners.

The duty is vague on how to implement the strategy and on what the strategy should look like. Depending on your view this might be a good or a bad thing; leaving space for local initiatives or a meaningless paper exercise.

Some of the same criticisms of the Duty to Involve can probably be levelled at the Duty to Prepare Sustainable Community Strategies:

  • It is vague and hard to enforce and there is no duty to update a SCS once prepared’
  • It is a top down requirement
  • There is only limited evidence of its impact

On the other hand it has some upsides compared to the Duty to Involve:

  • It leads to a specific output
  • It has a strategic focus
  • It is clear on who needs to be brought together
  • It has an area based focus

I think we need a discussion on this overlooked duty. To kick us off I’d like to ask these questions:

As a local resident or civil servant

  1. Have you found the Duty to prepare a sustainable communities strategy useful or unhelpful?
  2. Do you use your local strategy at the moment or does it just sit on the shelf?
  3. Will your council keep developing and updating your Sustainable Communities Strategies even without the duty?

Please let us know your thoughts.

2 Responses to “The Other Duty”

  1. Matt
    August 29, 2013 at 10:23 am

    Hi
    I’m doing research into SCSs and development planning and I’m concerned that the latest government policy is acting as if the duty to prepare an SCS (LG Act 2000) and the requirement that development plans should have regard to the SCS (Planning & CP Act 2004) have been repealed, when neither have.
    My view is that SCSs were mandated by the 2000 Act because many LAs were already producing similar visions/plans/strategies informally, and they became recognised as best practice. The benefits of producing facilitative legislation for them are that a common language and understanding is developed. This is particularly important in enabling accessibility to what are otherwise very complex local governance systems almost impenetrable to local people.
    The loss of the duty to prepare an SCS will be potentially very harmful for citizen involvement in my view.
    A more sensible change might have been to legislate that ALL public decisions must be made with regard to the SCS (as key planning decisions are), and that would have made it more important for councils and other public bodies to take them seriously.
    Ho hum.

  2. Edward Andersson
    September 2, 2013 at 4:59 pm

    Hi Matt,

    Councils can derive a lot of good from developing a good strategy with support from the local community. The requirement to produce a SCS is not very well understood and I think it is a shame. Much more could be done with this tool, both from the community and the council’s side.

    Part of the solution might be to make the SCS more central to more local decisions (as you suggest) which would ensure that more people were aware of it. However the current policy environment is not particularly fertile to the idea of extending regulatory requirements further.

    I agree that the removal or subversion of duties by stealth is worrying. What is the focus for your research more specifically?

    Edward

Leave a Reply