Sixty-four per cent of senior local authority figures have a low opinion of the ability of community groups to manage local assets and services, according to a poll by the Local Government Information Unit.
The LGIU’s report, Risk and Reward, published yesterday, is based on a survey of 96 senior local government councillors, chief executives and policy managers.
It asked respondents to rate their local communities’ capability to take responsibility for running council services and assets. Fifty-three per cent of respondents said it was low and 11 per cent said it was very low. Thirty-four per cent described it as fair and only 2 per cent rated it high.
Sixty-six per cent of respondents said their communities would be unmotivated or very unmotivated about taking a more active role in service delivery. Fifty-nine per cent said that over the next five years it would be important to increase the level of volunteering in council services.
The report warns that although the government’s Localism Bill is designed to help small local charities and enable community groups to play a bigger role in delivering local services, this will be difficult to achieve.
It says many councils "limit opportunities for community sector involvement as a result of their preoccupation with controlling risk", adding that half of respondents described their council as risk-averse or very risk-averse.
It warns that if this approach does not change, local groups will lose out. "It is probable that larger, national charities may be perceived as the ‘safe’ option, at the expense of local voluntary groups," it says. "While this approach holds fewer short-term risks, it could be to the detriment of the local voluntary sector economy in the long term."
The report says councils’ procurement processes and service-level agreements, which have been designed to limit risk, "have tended to favour relatively well-established voluntary sector organisations" and that a "radically different" approach to commissioning will be necessary once the Localism Bill’s right to challenge comes into force.
It recommends that councils should set up scrutiny panels to look at risk management in the context of working with the voluntary sector. Councils should, it says, "be flexible in managing their procurement processes, perhaps even positively discriminating in favour of certain [community] groups in order to manage their growth."