Managers have reacted angrily to news that health and local authorities will have to seek approval from health secretary Frank Dobson for new partnership initiatives coming into force from next April.
The move is spelled out in draft guidance governing the use of pooled funds, lead commissioning and integrated service delivery under the 1999 Health Act, which says the application process is designed to be 'light touch'.
Kensington and Chelsea housing and social services director Terry Bamford said he was concerned at the degree of central control implied. He said: 'These things grow best organically by local authorities and HAs reaching agreement at local level.'
He was also critical of the short timescale for consultation - responses have to be in by 15 October. The document was 'pretty indigestible' and HAs and local authorities were wrestling with other priorities, he said.
Richard Higgins, chief executive of Parkside Health trust, west London, said he was 'puzzled' by such 'formal and central control' and wanted to know more about the reasoning behind it.
'We are already involved in numerous local projects which resemble what is proposed in the guidance, and I would not want these kinds of good working partnerships and good, productive relationships to be hindered or prevented.'
The guidance says large sums may be tied up in services for 'very vulnerable groups of people'. It adds: 'Ministers need to be assured that schemes will be in line with national objectives, and that the risks have been assessed appropriately.'
Oxfordshire public health director Dr Sian Griffiths said she hoped responsibility for approval would be delegated. 'There are many healthcare systems that will want to experiment and I would hope that could be approved at regional level rather than at the centre, which would involve huge bureaucracy,' she said.
Huntingdonshire primary care group chief executive Karen Bell hoped the process would not be too bureaucratic and said Department of Health requirements for monitoring information should not be too onerous.
The draft document has two sections, one describing how partnership arrangements are intended to work and the other on information sharing.
A third section, on new financial powers to allow health and local authorities to pay each other for specific functions, has not been included. The DoH said there was 'no sinister aspect' to this omission - the section was not yet ready.
Draft Guidance on Partnership Provisions. www.doh.gov.uk/jointunit/guideindex.htm