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Local Government Secretary issues guide on statutory intervention and inspection into local authorities

The Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government has published a guide on statutory intervention and inspection into local authorities.

Under the Local Government Act 1999, the Secretary of State has the power to commission an inspection into a local authority which is at risk of failing in its ‘best value’ duty. Where there is sufficient evidence, the Secretary of State can also intervene in that authority.

Since 2010 the Secretary of State has intervened formally in four local authorities: Doncaster Metropolitan Borough Council, the London Borough of Tower Hamlets, Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Council and Northamptonshire County Council.

The guide says: “From this list of interventions, it will be clear that, in previous interventions by MHCLG, the Secretary of State has only used the powers in the legislation in very exceptional circumstances and very much as a last resort. We at the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government envisage this continuing to be the case.”

The guide describes the powers in the 1999 Act, how they are used and what local authorities can expect in the event of an inspection or intervention.

It covers:

  • Overview: before an intervention; the process.
  • Statutory powers: best value legislation; inspections under the legislation; interventions under the legislation; other intervention regimes.
  • Best value inspection: before a best value inspection; initiating a best value inspection; during an inspection; the inspector’s report.
  • Statutory intervention: general principles; minded to letter; representations; directions and the explanatory memorandum; approving and announcing the intervention; during an intervention; ending an intervention.
  • After an intervention: dealing with media; lessons learnt; leadership.

The guide, which was developed in response to requests in particular from the Public Accounts Committee and will be a living document, can be viewed here.

It stresses that it should not be taken as a definitive guide to the interpretation of the legislation – “that is for the Courts”.

The guide also does not cover forms of intervention (such as an Ofsted inspection or a non-statutory intervention) which fall outside the powers provided in the Local Government Act 1999, or action relating to the devolved administrations.

“However, it attempts to provide practical information on the process and legislation underpinning it, particularly focusing on what a local authority undergoing a best value inspection or statutory intervention can expect throughout the process.”

Other guides are to be published in due course covering alternative, non-statutory approaches to support for local authorities and lessons learnt from existing interventions.