Blears touts community contracts

The government wants councils to promise to improve local areas in return for local residents agreeing to cooperate.

Communities secretary Hazel Blears today set out plans for “community contracts”, which will see councils agree to meet minimum standards in return for good behaviour by residents.

This could see councils agreeing to tackle drug dealing, improve bin collection and street cleaning and clear graffiti in return for residents promising to report antisocial behaviour or maintain grass verges.

The agreements will be voluntary at first but Ms Blears said she was willing to consider whether they should be linked to a form of redress if council services fall below acceptable standards.

Today it emerged many residents are already being asked to pay twice for services, with ministers backing councils charging residents for using facilities already funded by council tax.

The Audit Commission reports a quarter of councils now raise more from charges than they do from council tax.

Charges and levies have increased from £5.5 billion to £10.8 billion a year over the past decade.

Local government minister John Healey said it was right council tax-paying households should pay again to use council-run facilities.

Mr Healey said: “The best councils are using charges with public backing to improve services, and encouraging people to be greener and healthier.”

Earlier, speaking to the New Local Government Network, Ms Blears said ten areas would pilot the community contracts, billed as a “reinvention” in the way local councils govern.

They are: Sunderland, Gateshead, Barnsley, Oldham, Lewisham, King’s Lynn, Blyth, Kirklees, Brighton, Manton, Kidderminster and the South Bank.

Ms Blears said: “There isn’t a single service or development in Britain which hasn’t been improved by actively involving local people who are best placed to spot problems and come up with ideas to solve them, whether it’s tackling antsocial behaviour or litter, or providing more services at a time people want them.

“Charters or so-called ‘community contracts’ will help councils, police and health authorities and local people to work together in tackling the issues that matter, improving their local neighbourhoods and improve public satisfaction.”