Headlines: March 8th, 2013

An agreement between Communities and Local Government and the Department for Work and Pensions to collaborate in the Troubled Families Programme, opens a new chapter in the development of Community Budgets.

The Troubled Families Programme is the flagship for developing Community Budgets which are a new model of service delivery, focusing on the whole issue and bringing together professionals with different skill sets with funding from a single pot budget. The Programme aims to turn around the lives of 120,000 troubled families by 2015.

A major obstacle to taking Community Budgets forward is a lack of enthusiasm by ministers to allow their budgets to be put in a local pot where spending decisions are taken locally. Comments by former Care Services Minister Paul Burstow about the experimental nature of Community Budgets show that the Department of Health is reluctant to get involved with joint commissioning and single pot budgets.

The new agreement provides for 150 specialist Jobcentre Plus advisers to work with existing troubled families teams in councils. The employment advisers will give intensive support to whole families and for the first time track the progress made to get them into jobs. They will help with CV writing, job interview skills and highlight training opportunities and job vacancies in the area. They will also put families in contact with local employers, demonstrating that there are opportunities for everyone to get into work.

The agreement demonstrates that the DWP is willing to devote more resource to the Programme, without contributing any additional funding to the single budget pot and at the same time not ceding any further power to the whole families team leader.
This approach may represent the way forward for departments to get more involved in the ‘whole issue’ focus and the pooling of professional expertise, while at the same time retaining control of their budgets and keeping power at the centre. It does not support localism and it is not how Community Budgets were envisaged when they emerged from the total place pilots, but it allows local team leaders to get on with the job with a greater prospect of success.

This modification of the Community Budgets model may be the key to opening the door to greater ministerial support for the whole issue approach.