Councils Have Power To Promote Well-Being

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Councils can make a positive contribution to a more sustainable society by using legal powers that enable them to promote local interests, according to a report by the Universities of the West of England and Birmingham. The Well Being Power, introduced in the Local Government Act 2000, gives local authorities discretionary power to undertake activities in support of the social, economic and environmental well-being of their areas.

So far little use has been made of the Power, and there are some doubts about whether enough is known about the opportunity it presents.

The findings of a four-year evaluation of the take-up and implementation of the Power have just been published and include a specially commissioned report on the implications of the Well Being Power on sustainable development.

This report on the Power and sustainability focuses on five key areas of service where local government can aid sustainable development locally: housing and construction, waste, energy, transport and education, and young people.

Researcher Laura Braybrook from UWE says: "Improved well-being of communities is an important goal of public policy, but our research shows that there is a lack of awareness of the Well Being Power and little take-up. And although the Well Being Power gives local authorities a valuable mechanism for promoting sustainability it continues to be an under-used policy lever."

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The report emphasises that the Power offers local authorities considerable scope to introduce new activities and to adapt their existing services in ways that will increase sustainability.

Practical advice for local authorities and their partners is included in the report, with examples of how some councils have successfully applied the Power to promote sustainable development in their communities. These case studies cover a range of innovative projects, including providing grants for solar water-heating in Braintree, Essex, the formation of joint-venture energy companies in Nottinghamshire, and introducing a new service at a waste-transfer station in South Hams, Devon.

The report highlights the Well Being Power's key advantages for local authorities and their partners:

• It eliminates the uncertainty associated with other powers
• Its use as a power of first resort increases staff efficiency by reducing bureaucracy and legal administration
• It widens the opportunities for local authorities to develop innovative projects, alone or with partners
• It can be used in combination with other powers to support the provision of new services

Local Government Minister John Healey said, "The wellbeing power could be used to tackle some of the very real problems faced by communities during this economic downturn. Some councils have shown the way, using it to drive investment in their area, get local people into jobs or make savings by delivering more efficient services."

The evaluation was commissioned by the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister as part of a wider programme of evaluation of Local Government Modernisation. Also published today are the overall findings of the evaluation together with practical guidance and advice for local authorities.

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