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Duty to Involve - a quick guide

quick_guide_button_copy.pngThe Duty to Involve came into effect on 1st April 2009. To find out more in our quick guide.

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What is the Duty to Involve?

It is a legal duty on authorities to inform, consult and involve local people in decision making across all public functions.

The Duty is to involve a representative mix of local people (i.e. people who live, work or study in a local area), which should be a selection of individuals, businesses, groups or organisations that the authority considers are likely to be affected by or have a particular interest in the authority function in question.

There is an explicit expectation that local authorities involve the third sector. Councillors are also expected to play a leading role. The purpose of the Duty is ‘to embed a culture of engagement and empowerment' so that informing, consulting or involving local people in another way is considered as a matter of course, both in relation to routine functions and significant one-off decisions.

National policy drivers
Although political parties vary in their language and emphasis, both ‘localism', and ‘community empowerment' are high up the political agenda and feature in major policy initiatives by all of the main parties. The Duty to Involve is part of this.

There are many interlinking aspects of the local empowerment agenda, and three main policy drivers underpinning initiatives and pushing the agenda forward.

• Addressing the democratic deficit - rebuilding public confidence, making local government more accountable, more transparent

• Increasing ‘active citizenship' - to improve how communities work, make them more cohesive, increase ‘social capital'

• Improving services and efficiency - through improved intelligence about what service users want and need

The role of the third sector
The third sector has a major potential role to play in the Duty to Involve, and the empowerment agenda generally.

• As advocates for local individuals and groups
• As organisations with expertise and specialist knowledge
• As organisations with the capacity to reach out to different sections of the community - who can help deliver inclusive involvement
• As part of the community!

The legal framework
The new Duty to Involve came into force on 1st April 2009. It is set out in the Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Act 2007. The Duty applies to all best value authorities in England, except the Police who have separate arrangements.

The same act also brought in powers for council's to devolve budgets down to a ward level, and for councillors to initiate council debate on ward issues (the‘Councillor Call for Action').

The Duty to Involve will be extended to other statutory partner organisations such as the Police, Health Authorities, Passenger Transport Authorities, Regional Development Agencies. This is being brought in with the Local Democracy Act (formerly the Local Democracy, Economic Development and Construction bill), which became law on the 14th October 2009. The Local Democracy Act also introduces duties for local councils to promote
democracy, and to respond to local petitions.

The new Duty to Involve adds to existing requirements on public bodies to engage service users or citizens. These existing requirements include the NHS Duty to Involve which came into force 3rd November 2008 (under the NHS Act 2006) and places a duty on NHS trusts, PCTs and strategic health authorities to make arrangements to involve patients and the public in service planning and operation, and in the development of proposals for changes.

How will performance on the Duty to Involve be assessed and measured?
• Local Area Agreements and NI 4: The % of people who feel they can influence decisions in their area. This is measured by responses to the Place Survey, looking at progress since the base line figures provided by 2008 Place Survey.

• Comprehensive Area Assessment: Will include an assessment on how well an authority and its partners know and understand the needs and aspirations of communities, if local partners are doing enough to engage with, empower and understand their diverse communities, as well as specifically what evidence there is of effective implementation of the Duty to Involve. The first reports of the CAAs re due on 10th December 2009.

What does involvement look like?
There are numerous way that communities and citizens can be involved in local decision making.

Working with the authority to assess services (e.g. citizens acting as mystery
shoppers, and employing users as evaluators)

Providing feedback on decisions, services, and policies (e.g. have your say
section on the website, service user forums, feedback forms)

• Influencing decision making (e.g. service advisory panels)
• Direct participation in decision making (e.g. participatory budgeting)
• Co-designing policies and services (e.g. being involved in commissioning)
• Delivery of services or aspect of services (e.g. asset transfer, taking part in street clean or conservation work, maintaining a community centre).

Some or all of these ways of being involved in local decision-making will be
familiar to all of us. For some authorities the Duty to Involve is a question of
continuing what they do already. For others it is about looking at how they can use the Duty to build on what they do. For others it may be the start of a process.

Reality check?
So a few months in, how well is the Duty to Involve being implemented?

Our experience . . .

In August Urban Forum carried out a survey of people both from the voluntary and community sector, and from the public sector to test out their awareness of the Duty, their attitudes towards it, and their views on whether it was being implemented. This found that:

• 50% felt fairly well informed about the duty to involve, this increased to71% among public sector respondents.
• 53 % thought that engagement structures and mechanisms used by the local authority partly met the requirements of the duty.
• 45% didn't know if new structures of mechanisms had been introduced to implement the duty.
• 36% of respondents said that a lack of resources (time and money) was the main barrier to involvement in local decision-making - this was the most common answer given, the next most common being lack of communication at 19%
• 65% thought that the Duty to Involve could be some help in overcoming the barriers to people getting involved.

The results highlight the further work that needs to be done by the public sector in engaging the third sector in implementation of the Duty to Involve, and the need for resources to be allocated to enable both third sector and public sector organisations to get involved in empowerment activity.

That completes an overview of the Duty to Involve, the national policies that are driving the empowerment agenda, the legal framework, and a picture of what involvement can look like.

And now it's over to you . . .

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Monday, 02 November 2009
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