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Sustainable Localism

25 March 2004

Sustainable development should be the framework for local governance, says a new report launched today. An official response to the report is expected from attendees at the launch including the Audit Commission, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister and the New Local Government Network.

(London 25.3.04) A new report, Seeing the Bigger Picture; delivering local sustainable development, is out today from Northumbria University's Sustainable Cities Research Institute supported by the Sustainable Development Commission, funded and published by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation.

At the launch event, the Audit Commission, the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (ODPM), the New Local Government Network, Civic Trust, Chartered Institute of Environmental Health and the Improvement and Development Agency will all respond to the recommendations in the report and setout their approach to local sustainable development.

The report offers an uncompromising critique of how local services are currently delivered. It also warns of the serious downsides if the imminent reforms to local government don't make clear that any new public service organisation must fulfil its basic obligation: to protect and enhance quality of life for our communities.

Fay Blair, co-author of the report, called for clarity and commitment to protecting the long-term public interest:

'In five years' time, local governance will be almost unrecognisable. As power and money are shared between local communities, local government and other service providers, we could be left in a vacuum of responsibility for the long term good of the community. A strong, consistent framework is desperately needed to make sure that public money is always spent in ways that protect our local environments and improve quality of life. The principles of sustainable development are the only workable solution to that challenge.'

The report is the culmination of a year's work and as a comprehensive set of recommendations for national and local organisations driving the 'new localism' agenda.

For example, the report calls for a new set of sustainable development performance indicators for the Audit Commission. It even proposes a radical new approach to the Audit Commission's role, which would base future inspections on the question 'What is it like to live here'? According to the report, the current inspection system is too distant from the realities of local life.

From central government, the report looks for more proactive leadership. One recommendation is for ODPM to integrate minimum criteria for sustainable development into any future Best Value and Comprehensive Performance Assessments obligations.

Co-author Professor Bob Evans explains the need for these changes:

'Every one of us is affected by local decision-making, a good example of which is procurement. Our report shows how huge amounts of goods, services and works are bought each year at a local level ; for example school dinners, street cleaning and old people's home refurbishments. If that procurement is driven only by short term cost savings we are building ourselves a long-term problem. Local organisations must work together, within a sustainable development framework, towards efficiency and long-term quality of life.'

At today's event, both the Audit Commission and the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister are expected to respond to the report.

Representatives from the Improvement and Development Agency (IDeA), the Local Government Association, Civic Trust, Chartered Institute of Environmental Health and the New Local Government Network will all also discuss their own future roles, based on the specific recommendations made in the report.

Jonathon Porritt, Chairman of the Sustainable Development Commission, concludes:

'If I worked in local governance I would want to be able to get on with my job secure in the knowledge that there is a strong framework that ensures we are doing the right thing. That framework is sustainable development. Some of the jigsaw pieces are now in place but this agenda will require concerted effort and political will to deliver a truly sustainable localism.'

Notes for editors:
1. The event will be held on THURSDAY 25 MARCH 2004 11.30 until 13.00 (lunch provided) at The Chartered Institute of Environmental Health (CIEH), Chadwick Court 15 Hatfields, London.

Press Passes are available from the contact below. Speakers will be available for interview from 13.00.

2. Seeing the bigger picture: delivering local sustainable development by Fay Blair and Bob Evans is published by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and available from York Publishing Services, 64 Hallfield Road, Layerthorpe, York YO31 7ZQ price £15.95 plus £2 p&p. It can be obtained as a free download from www.jrf.org.uk.

3. The Sustainable Development Commission (SDC) is the Government's independent sustainable development advisor, reporting to Tony Blair and the devolved administration leaders. The Commission's objectives include advocating a compelling vision of a sustainable economy and society, and reviewing how far sustainable development is being achieved in the UK across all sectors.

4. Sustainable development provides a framework for redirecting our economies to enable everyone to meet their basic needs and improve their quality of life while ensuring that the natural resources on which they depend are maintained and enhanced, both for their benefit and for that of future generations.

5. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation has supported this project as part of its programme of research and innovative development projects, which it hopes will be of value to policy makers, practitioners and service users. The facts presented and views expressed in this report are, however, those of the authors and not necessarily those of the Foundation.
Joseph Rowntree Foundation, The Homestead, 40 Water End, York YO30 6WP Website:

6. The report draws from existing research and builds on the earlier studies in JRF programmes. It has not involved primary data collection. As a result of a highly collaborative partnership between the Sustainable Cities Research Institute (SCRI) at
Northumbria University (as project managers) and the UK Sustainable Development Commission, a shared work programme was developed on local governance issues. A core project team - with representatives from the Improvement and Development Agency and the Audit Commission - has guided and actively supported the work.

Discussions were held with officials across government departments, local government agencies and associations. Workshops were organised to draw on the perceptions and experience of these groupings along with academics, non-governmental organisations, consultants, researchers and practitioners, to help locate the role of sustainable development in local governance.
Website: www.sustainable-cities.org

6. For Press Enquires:
Solitaire Townsend/Lucy Shea: 020 77336363
07957 442421

7. For further information on the Report please contact:
E-mail: sd.commission@defra.gsi.gov.uk
Public Enquiries: 020 7944 4964

Sustainable Development Commission
5th Floor, Romney House
Tufton Street
London SW1P 3RA
Public Enquiries: 020 7944 4964
Website: http://www.sd-commission.gov.uk).

8. Author's contact details:
Fay Blair

Bob Evans

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