The pilot Total Place projects have revealed a complex picture of public spending with most decisions taken with little regard to local situation and with negligible influence by the local community. Total Place has the potential to alter this balance of power.
Examination of who spends what in an area has revealed that up 50 public bodies deliver services with taxpayer’s money, but major decisions abut spending are taken in Whitehall. There is limited local discretion with about 5% of the spend influenced by council members, who are the only people subject to the ballot box.
Bringing agencies together to look at how current activities could be better co-ordinated will lead to considering how the future can be better managed. Communities Minister John Denham in a recent speech said he wanted strategic joint assessments made locally on planning to make best use of capital assets. This would mean that capital investment in schools, hospitals, housing would better reflect a strategic vision for the place. This development would give local people a choice in how investment capital was to be spent.
John Denham also sees effective scrutiny an important driver of improvements in public service delivery and a way to move power to the community. Scrutiny powers have already been widened to give joint scrutiny committees power to scrutinise all activities related to Local Area Agreement targets and it is planned to increase this power in new legislation. The new powers would allow examination of how well local partners were working together and this would also involve scrutinising other bodies, such as utility companies and local transport providers.
The Local Government Association has called on ministers to provide for more local influence.