Headlines: August 12th, 2009

National recession-busting schemes to help business, mortgages and employment are achieving varying levels of success, but locally-tailored
interventions can produce quicker and better results. The Audit Commission has found many examples of successful local schemes and it wants councils to be proactive and prepare to combat a wide range of social problems.

The Commission warns that councils should prepare for a second phase to the recession involving worsening social impacts as unemployment rises. Demand for benefits, welfare and help with debt are growing, and social problems such as domestic violence and mental ill-health are expected to follow as the recession deepens. It also predicts a longer-term ‘third wave’ of recession which would see most areas bounce back while others continue to flounder.

The challenge to councils is to build their capacity to tackle their own local problems, and deploy resources through local partnerships. Wigan Metropolitan District Council, for example, has worked with health partners to address recession challenges. The Local Strategic Partnership has engaged with GPs to ensure patients are offered employment or debt advice rather than automatically prescribed drugs when presenting for stress-related complaints.

Other examples of local intervention are the Bank of Essex , a joint venture between Essex County Council and Santander to help keep local businesses afloat by offering loans and advice. Wakefield Metropolitan District Council launched a mortgage assistance scheme to prevent homelessness by providing interest-free loans to homeowners with mortgage arrears. Northumberland Council shared in a part funding of a management buy out of Cheviot Foods in Amble, securing 190 local jobs.

The Commission’s report, ‘When it comes to the crunch’ says most councils have taken sensible, low risk steps to support businesses, help labour markets and support vulnerable households, but the impact is likely to be fairly modest. Some councils have been more ambitious and have coherent action plans agreed with their local partners, including tailored interventions to support important local employers. These can be effective, but risky. Other councils, often those with experience of widespread deprivation, have the capability and resources to develop these and manage the risks, but the majority do not.