We have all now had the benefit of a number of days to reflect on the Government’s ‘open public services’ white paper.
The document is more of a green paper than a white paper in the way it limits itself to descriptions of the principles that the Coalition wants to drive regarding service improvements and extending competition among those who provide them.
This is also a rare white paper in that, as the public recession bites, it does not discuss costs; particularly unit costs.
However it is a very clear statement of strategic intent, which has profound implications for the local government sector.
On the one hand there is much in the document that many in local government may see as threatening.
It will be seen as a challenge to the idea that local government, as an elected part of the polity, has a right to limit competition for the provision of the services it commissions or indeed limit the extent of open commissioning and payment by results.
And I expect many in local government will have reservations about the way in which the white paper points to a new localism in which councils will cede large parts of their current sovereignty over major aspects of health, policing, asset management and service delivery to individuals, groups and new bodies including new neighbourhood councils.
It will also be perceived as signalling severe restrictions to the future regulatory role of local government.
However the white paper goes out of its way to celebrate some of the excellent things local government is doing at the moment including the progress it is making in the commissioning of services.
It states how important local government will be in the successful implementation of the reform agenda, and it commits to consulting with local government on many of the proposed changes.
Therefore the white paper provides an opportunity for local government to engage in this reform and ensure the democratic legitimacy of local authorities is properly reflected in the way forward, particularly in the context of the most vulnerable members of communities.
Local government can use it as a platform to more effectively shape how initiatives such as the Community Right to Buy and the Community Right to Challenge are executed. And I believe it gives the sector an opening to help the Government in one of its next steps, namely the production of a comprehensive list of the local services that are to be opened up to competition and the timetable for allowing potential new providers to bid.
Perhaps above all it gives local government an opportunity to present itself as a key and enthusiastic social partner in this wave of reform, which has the potential to boost its prestige and that of all the dedicated people within it.
Hitherto local government has sometimes risked being perceived as a target in need of reform rather than an indispensable shaper of it.
The opportunity to be seen as a trusted advisor and a challenging but supportive partner in the implementation of public service reform is one not to be missed.