The minister told the LGCommunications conference in Birmingham that the powers outlined in the Local Government White Paper will give councils more scope to engage communities.
In particular, he said, the legislation will give authorities the chance to repair reputations which have been damaged by ‘malicious’ and ‘scaremongering’ campaigns about rubbish collection and council tax.
Woolas said: ‘We must find new ways to engage with people. That is why we are devolving unprecedented levels of power, greater community management and ownership of assets and more powers for frontline councillors to give people a greater voice.’
However, he also warned that local authorities must make sure they use the new ramped up powers when they come in to effect.
Woolas was speaking shortly after news emerged that the reputation of local government is in decline for the seventh year in a row.
The Audit Commission’s public satisfaction survey – which shows how satisfied residents are with their councils – fell by one percent this year. Just 54 per cent of people are now satisfied with the way their local authority manages services.
‘Just as in the private sector, as you raise expectations and quality you are more likely to have people who are dissatisfied,’ said Woolas.
Stepping up partnership working and rebranding local services will help tackle this phenomenon, Woolas told the conference. ‘The public doesn’t want to understand decision-making structures; councils should brand themselves as places,’ he said. ‘This is the framework we are trying to create.’
Devolutionary measures in the Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Bill, currently before Parliament, include a duty on councils to involve communities in how services are delivered and powers for local people to call their councils to account.
The Community Call for Action will allow for local issues not tackled by a council to be passed to the council’s scrutiny committee.