Posted by:9 August, 2012
In recent years, governments of different complexions have toyed with the idea of looking at how public services might be delivered if the focus was on a geographical or citizen-centric rather than departmental basis. How might people be helped into employment or kept away from illegal behaviour if one were to consider the potential of all public sector interventions rather than those of individual agencies.
At the end of the last Labour government, there was some interest in a programme called ‘Total Place’ under which councils and other agencies undertook counting exercises to assess the total amount of public money spent in an area while ministers made encouraging noises about pooling it all together. The general election scotched those plans and there was even talk that councils’ eagerness to get involved in such projects had damaged the sector’s standing in the eyes of the new administration.
Nevertheless, it wasn’t long before communities secretary Eric Pickles was announcing a programme of community budgets that sounded suspiciously similar to its predecessor. That was in July 2010 and over the next 15 months, it became clear that no budgets were being pooled in the 16 pilots running and nor was there any prospect of it happening.
Last summer the government tacitly admitted the pilots were going nowhere and relaunched community budgets pledging to do it properly this time and, as a sign of its commitment, sending teams of civil servant to work with a handful (original two, eventually four) of pilots.
Since then, Greater Manchester, Cheshire West and Chester, Essex and the three ‘tri borough’ London councils have been drawing up business cases for how a community budget could work. Meetings with ministers took place last month and by all accounts, the preliminary work of the pilots was well-received by Whitehall departments.
But what is a community budget? What does one look like? What will it achieve? To answer those questions, let’s take the example of the Essex pilot and look at some of the documents that have been released.
What’s being worked on?
In Essex, the council, a range of local public sector agencies and the team of civil servants have been pursuing four workstreams that comprise altogether of seven projects.
The aim is to improve economic opportunity, community safety and health and wellbeing in the county whilst also getting to grips with the county’s families with complex needs. To achieve these goals, there are attempts to work on: skills for employment; infrastructure and transport; creating multi-disciplinary teams; reducing reoffending; reducing domestic abuse; strengthening communities; and also integrating commissioning. The workstreams and projects can be visualised like so:
All of these projects are underpinned by a series of ‘systemic enablers’, in essence the techniques needed to make these goals realisable. They include developing an approach to measuring costs and benefits that projects have; a method for analysing the way funding flows around the county; finding ways of bringing in investment from outside the public purse; data sharing; asset management; addressing the skills and expertise requirements of the county’s public sector workforce; and developing a programme to boost the capacity of the local housing market.
Who’s working on it?
Much was made of the Whitehall secondees being a symbol of the government’s commitment to really making a go of the community budget pilots. According to the pilot’s organisational structure, the civil servants are working in five delivery teams dedicated to the four workstreams and the systemic enablers alongside heads of services and senior managers from the council and other local agencies. These agencies include the primary care trust, the police and fire services.
Each of these teams reports to a workstream lead – all senior directors or managers from the county council – which in turn are overseen by sponsor groups comprised of chief executives, senior officers and cabinet members from the county’s various councils and health bodies amongst others.
Sitting atop all of this are multi-partner sounding and executive boards and the programme’s sponsors, the leader and chief executive of the county council, Peter Martin (Con) and Joanna Killian respectively. The overall programme is being managed by Essex’s assistant chief executive Richard Pulleston and assistant director for policy strategy and partnerships Dan Gascoyne. The latter can be found tweeting at @WholeEssexCB.
What are they proposing?
The economic opportunity workstream is based on the two programmes; one on boosting skills for employment and another on improving infrastructure and transport.
Skills for Employment
The ‘big idea’ is to improve the training of young people in the county so that their skills better match local employment opportunities. This will be achieved through increased employer participation.
As part of a community budget, Essex wants to establish an employment and skills board between employers and the local public sector, to which funding for vocational training and employment support will be devolved. There is also a plan to introduce a strategic framework and a contract budget for employment and skills based on the rail and bus franchise model where longer-term contracts would be paid on an outcomes basis. Lastly, the county wants all agencies to sign up to the use of a single ‘individual tracker number’ for each young person that would apply across all pathways and “progression routes”.
Infrastructure and Transport
The Essex pilot believes that it misses out on public sector infrastructure funding as it gets directed to other less-prosperous parts of the UK while the plethora of core strategies and local plans in effect within the county act to deter private sector investment. To attract investment, the pilot is proposing to set up an integrated ‘infrastructure gateway’ made up of the public and private sectors that would prioritise projects for investment and secure funding for them.
Setting up the gateway would involve the creation of a revolving £1bn capital investment fund consisting of local authority, national and private sector funds. A single portfolio of public sector assets to support the fund would also be created. Meanwhile, all the economic development and regeneration officers working in the various districts and boroughs would be brought together into a single team.
The pilot’s asks of the government include an as-yet-unspecified capital investment for the fund as well as the transfer of assets; 100% business rate retention in identified high-growth places; the application of tax incremental financing to the investment fund (essentially the ability to borrow against predicted future returns on investment); and a review of fees charged by one bit of the public sector to another but where there is no net benefit to the taxpayer.
The main programme in the families with complex needs workstream is based on setting up multi-disciplinary teams.
The pilot wants to create multi-disciplinary family teams to act as a single front door for families with complex needs that do not reach social care thresholds. A family-led assessment would form the basis for an action plan which would have community-based support woven in to become a “long-term, light-touch service to ensure sustained change”.
As part of this plan, the pilot wants the government to consider payment-by-result mechanisms for family based interventions as well as any necessary legislation changes needed around data sharing.
The community safety workstream is based on two main programmes, reducing reoffending and reducing domestic abuse.
The pilot wants to develop a cross-agency system of commissioning services for offenders – particularly those in prison for less than 12 months – in order to stop them falling into reoffending through fragmented and circular services. This will involve a strong focus on training, employment, accommodation, mentoring and personal advisors potentially delivered through some form of social enterprise.
The pilot’s asks of government on this front are for the commissioning of services for drug and alcohol teams and probation services to be kept at the local level despite the reforms and reviews currently being undertaken at the national level. The pilot also wants a portion of funding allocated for ‘education, training and employment’ by the Home Office to be retained for local commissioning.
Reducing Domestic Abuse
While an estimated 43,860 individuals are estimated to be victims of domestic abuse in Essex in any one year, the lack of a strategy to deal with this problem leads to incoherent and inconsistent services. The pilot wants to redesign services but the business case for doing so is as yet short on specifics, with “prevention, early intervention and easier access to improved services” brought about by “streamlined working services”.
Despite the lack of detail in the plan, the pilot wants to see the government reclassify domestic abuse as an aggravated crime and also accept that becoming more successful at uncovering unreported crimes will have an impact on crime statistics.
The main programme in the health and wellbeing workstream is based on integrated commissioning.
In tune with the general mood music surrounding health and social care reform, Essex is keen to implement a single, integrated approach to commissioning services across the council and seven clinical commissioning groups in the county. This approach would be designed next year but would be based on a move away from acute hospital provision and towards community based provision.
The pilot is asking the government for policy assistance to allow local investment, benefit and reward frameworks that increase the scope of addressable savings. But one idea for reform would be a “single sovereign commissioning body prototype in a CCG locality”.
The families with complex needs, community safety and health and wellbeing workstreams are all also underpinned by a programme based on strengthening communities. However, a business case for this programme has not yet been published.
What savings does the pilot think this kind of approach could yield?
The pilot has provided projections for the financial benefits of most of the programmes it is working on. Obviously, the business case is not finalised yet and the following figures need to be treated with a hefty degree of caution. They also don’t include estimates for the infrastructure and transport or strengthening communities projects. However, they show there could be a net benefit of more than half a billion pounds to the public purse by 2017-18, with a stretch potential for more than £650m.
|Cumulative net benefits £m|
|Skills for employment||34.2||89.8||110.7||134.9||164||NA|
|Infrastructure and transport||Not yet quantified|
|Reducing domestic abuse||NA||1.74||3.47||5.21||6.9||8.7|
|Total benefit, £m||562.3||653.1|
What are the other pilots doing?
Given the early stage of proceedings, not all pilots have been so bold as to publish their best guess on the financial benefits that their work could bring. The west London ‘tri-borough’ pilot has claimed that savings of £50m a year could be found from reducing unplanned hospital admissions care home placements and that redesigning services for tackling troubled families could produce cashable savings of £2 and wider benefits to the public sector of £7, for every pound spent.
The Greater Manchester pilot is pursuing an approach based on investment models, whereby the potential outcomes and financial benefits from pooling funds from a variety of agencies to invest in early interventions to tackle the long-term dependency that costs the public purse so dearly whilst also boosting growth. The pilot is looking at applying this approach to the areas of health and social care, early years services, troubled families, and justice and probationary services.
What happens next?
Essex, like all of the pilots, is working to a deadline of the end of October to finalise its business case and present it to ministers. One of the issues that the pilots have thrown up is how the savings that are made are split between the relevant local agencies.
The government has also made it clear that it wants the pilots to demonstrate how the approaches they have been working on could be scaled up to work across the country. Keen to hail the possibilities of a community budget-based approach ahead of the next spending review, the LGA has commissioned consultants Ernst & Young to model the potential savings of rolling out such an approach more widely.
Full details of the Whole Essex Community Budget can be found at www.wecb.org.uk.
From Civic Regalia
LGC’s political editor Dan Drillsma-Milgrom blogs on all aspects of town hall life