Headlines: December 23rd, 2011

The reticence within the coalition government to base public service reform on the adoption of the Total Place approach has been overcome and modest plans to extend Community Budgets have been replaced with additional pilots in 14 areas.

The Total Place pilots of 2009 demonstrated that bringing together all funding on local public services from the area into a single pot and allowing multi skilled teams to work across organisational boundaries to find innovative solutions, leads to better quality services at substantially lower cost.

Sixteen Community Budget pilot projects were launched in April 2011 to recast the services provided to some 10,000 families with multiple problems. There are plans to extend Community Budgets for such families over the next two years. This will increase the coverage to some 120 thousand families facing real social challenges.

The plan to extend the scope of Community Budgets with four additional pilots to areas beyond troubled families has been replaced with the announcement of fourteen new pilots. The aim is to prove the Community Budget concept at the micro neighbourhood level and at the macro whole area level.

Four pilots will focus at the macro level by exploring ‘ways to create local growth and reduce dependency on the state’. They are: Cheshire West and Chester looking at how to pool a single budget of between £3-4bn from over 150 local services; Greater Manchester will aim to use joined up local investment to reduce levels of dependency and to help create 50,000 jobs in the next four years; West London will focus on skills and training for over 16s, speeding up family courts, and curbing youth violence and anti-social behaviour; and Essex will pull together a single set of objectives for the £10.4 billion they spend on public services so it is used more effectively and efficiently.

Ten ‘neighbourhood level’ areas have also been selected to develop smaller scale Community Budgets that will give residents a micro-local level say over the services they want and use. The local community will play a leading role, working with councils and professionals to shape local services so they work from a customer’s perspective. The areas are: Cowgate, Kenton Bar and Montague in Newcastle; White City, Kingston, Poplar, Queens Park in London; Ilfracombe in North Devon; Bradford Trident; Sherwood in Tunbridge Wells; Haverhill; and Castle Vale, Shard End and Balsall Heath in Birmingham.

The broader scope and wider scale of the new pilots send s a clear signal from the government that Community Budgets is the route to reform of the public sector. In July 2010 the Local Government Association set out a vision of ‘Place-based budgets’ as the future governance of local public services. The core of the LGA vision was the creation of an Area Board, at sub regional level to be accountable for all services within its boundaries. It would be responsible for commissioning all local services. The Board would consist of a small number of elected representatives and if the sub-region is made up of one council, its members will be the councillors that comprise the existing cabinet. The chair of the local police authority would also be a member of the Board. The Board would be accountable to local taxpayers and directly to Parliament for nationally raised funding. It would present an estimate of expenditure which would be agreed by Parliament. There would be direct accountability through the chair of the devolved body or through its chief executive. See Publicnet July 2010.

The announcement of 14 new Community Budget pilots puts this vision back on the agenda with a realistic glimpse of what the future might hold.