Review of the new Local Priorities web service from the Dept of Communities and Local Government

I do like the idea behind this new web service from the Department of Communities and Local Government which tells you about your Local Area Agreement.
Local Area Agreements (LAA) are negotiated between a local council (plus the local strategic partnership, like BeBirmingham) and central government. Together they create a list of key improvements and sign a three year deal to hit some key targets – that’s the LAA. Every local authority will have a different set of priorities – Birmingham will include tackling gun crime, Boscombe wont.

This new website uses a map to help us find out what the priorities are for where we live. This is good. In the simple sense information empowers people. If I know what the council or police force’s priorities are I can negotiate with them better. I can improve the way I influence them. I can also decide whether to challenge those priorities and make the case for new priorities. It all helps focus and clarify the conversation between citizen and those who serve the citizen.
So the principal is great but execution has shortcomings. First of all the information isn’t very usable. If I go to the Birmingham part of the site I can’t create a permanent link to this information. Instead I get the link which generates the data from the database:

http://www.localpriorities.communities.gov.uk/LAAResults.aspx

This means that a local newspaper or a local community group can’t link to the Birmingham part of the site to share with others what the targets are for the neighbourhood. Without permanent links the whole web service is based on the assumption that people will come to your site rather than the more realistic idea of letting your information go to where they are on the web.

Next the information lacks detail.

It tells me Birmingham has 35 targeted priorities. I have to presume they are not listed in any order of importance. For example NI (national indicator?) 001 tells me that we have a target called “% of people who believe people from different backgrounds get on well together in their local area”. What it doesn’t say is what that percentage is in Birmingham at the moment and or the percentage we’re trying to achieve. Likewise NI 154 tells me nothing more than one of Birmingham’s 35 agreed priorities is called: “Net additional homes provided”. That’s it. No more place specific detail.

Is this a question of time? Will the extra information about specific numbers for Birmingham be added? If not why not? If so how is this happening?
The whole process could be streamlined if individual local authorities have their own login to add the specifics of their targets.
They could further update it when/if those targets have been met. They could add links to evidence of the achievement, whether text, video or audio. Alongside that residents could leave their comments, a little like public comments on parliamentary debates on TheyWorkForYou. Local residents, newspapers, businesses and communities group could also keep track of this and share it if you provided an rss feed for every local authorities set of targets.

The information could also be used to create a game or competition to encourage local authorities to keep the data refreshed. Politicians like to keep track of who’s on top. They might even respond to a widget which rings a bell every time a target is hit – either in their region, or nationally.

One last thing – it isn’t really local enough. Many people don’t know which local authority area they live in. If we want everyone to easily access the LAA priorities then a postcode or map based search system would be better – integrating perhaps google maps with the site. This is something already done by others (notably mysociety with fixmystreet), so technically is now quite straightforward.
The bulk of these things would be relatively easy to do through ning or perhaps wordpress multiuser – all on the same url as now.

To sum up it’s a good idea but I can’t see many people finding it very useful in its current form.

9 comments

  1. Andrew Brown says:

    Having just been arguing the toss about our local LAA – and trying to point out that it’s more than just the council’s targets – on one of our local blogs I’d agree that a lack of detail doesn’t help the discussion.

    I’d have thought that some sort of link back to the document that the LSP has put together which argues why they’ve chosen their particular priorities would help set the context.

    Of course some of the indicators are new so there won’t be any data to assess what the baseline is at the moment, but that’s not true of all of them, so your point about building up the picture as things develop is also a good one, but I’d have thought that might be better done on the LSP’s website.

  2. Nick Booth says:

    Thanks for the thoughts Andrew. I’m not sure of the set up behind this site, but who gets to add content is often tightly controlled. Opening it for more people to add appropriate information and links would make it more useful and probably more used.

  3. Paul Webster says:

    I knew this was coming and was also expecting a little more detail than we have been presented with.
    Even something like a link to a summary of the LAA from the Local Authority would be helpful with some information about how they are going to meet the target, no so they can be beaten with it to meet it, but so that we can participate.
    Agree mashing-up with Fixmystreet etc would be cool.

    A start of something powerful or a “hard-coded” web page version of someone’s Excel spreadsheet ?!

  4. Nick Booth says:

    Etienne may I say that’s a wonderful thing you have done (and for all your work on mysociety projects thank you. ) Judging from the criteria for the site mentioned in the documents you received from your FOI application I don’t think it had managed to meet its aims at launch. £70,000 as the spend leaves me agog.

    What do the rest of you think about the total cost?

  5. dp says:

    This past March, when BeBirmingham were asking for input about which targets to set, the list of topics was both constrained and uninformative. The number was set (to 35, IIRC) for unexplained reasons, there were no options for adding categories, and those of us wishing to emphasise particular foci had to do it by carefully selecting/avoiding priorities among the options given.

  6. Nick Booth says:

    Curious , the government reaches agreement with each LAA their top priorities (doesn’t mean we should be limited to those 35 though).

    You ought to know that I’m doing some film making working for BeBirmingham at the moment – just by way of being open.

Leave a Reply to Etienne Pollard Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *