Headlines: December 9th, 2009

Interim findings from the Bedfordshire and Luton Total Place pilot project have revealed a mishmash of complicated and uncoordinated processes for dealing with welfare payments and managing crime. Work is now going on to find better ways to improve service to benefit claimants and reduce reoffending. It is expected that this can be achieved with substantial cost savings.

The picture that emerged on accessing benefits was one of complexity, fragmentation and duplication. There are 51 different welfare benefits in England and Wales but no single, official picture to show the public how they inter-relate. Each benefit requires a different claims process and some claim forms are over 50 pages long. People usually have to visit more than one agency to claim all their entitlements and at each office they have to answer more or less the same questions. To claim the variety of benefits customers have to embark on a ‘grand tour’ of different agencies who administer different benefits from different locations. In Bedfordshire this can involve long, difficult and expensive journeys on public transport.

The Total Place team are working on measures to improve access to benefits with a focus on the right support, at the right place and right time with big improvements in service cost-effectiveness. The proposal involves a ‘triage’ service which could reduce by 75 per cent the time taken by existing procedures and speed up payments to claimants by as much as 25 days, cutting delays by more than half. Savings in administration costs are estimated to be around 40 per cent.

Management of crime is similarly uncoordinated. Current procedures for dealing with offenders are expensive and often completely fail to break the cycle of re-offending. Crime figures for the Central Bedfordshire and Luton area revealed that a mere two per cent of offenders committed 4,400 crimes over the past three years. This is 30 per cent of total crimes These were mainly burglaries and vehicle crime. The cost to the community is £5 million a year.

The Total Place team is developing plans to marshal resources and develop an effective ‘life action plan’ for each offender along seven distinct pathways. This would involve accommodation, finance, benefit and debt, employment, skills and training, health, drugs and alcohol, attitudes, thinking and behaviour, children and families. Creating this pathway, it is claimed, would dramatically cut reoffending rates.

The plans would involve a single point of contact for prolific priority offenders with police, courts, prison service, probation, health, council and benefits services working together as a ‘core team’ in one location, using a common, accessible database. The team would be co-ordinated by a single person reporting to a steering group and governed, operationally and strategically, by a local criminal justice board, including the chief executives of all the partner agencies involved.

The project team will deliver its final report and recommendations on 5 February 2010.