System shuffle requires fast footwork
Have you noticed that when the government identifies a ‘wicked issue’ - those critical but tricky-to-tackle problem areas - the answer is often to give it to someone else to fix.
Local government is frequently the recipient of such a handover, and it is never plain sailing. There is a great deal of this about at the moment - arising from health and welfare reform.
The transfer of public health responsibilities to local government is a ‘homecoming’ in the eyes of many. However, it is a homecoming that involves a shift in responsibility for some of our most ingrained wicked issues - obesity and physical inactivity among them.
It is true that preventing ill health has much to do with information, education and lifestyle - very much the province of local government. Yet the challenge that the sector is accepting is that of attempting to change the culture and behaviours of a nation … not easy in anyone’s book.
Then some other shifts - blue badges have gone national, well sort of. We have a national system of issue with a local system of assessment.
The issue being addressed is fraudulent use of badges. At the same time there is an attempt at channel shift, with an online application and payment system set out in the reforms.
However, the early impact of the ‘streamlined’ system has been an increase in processing time and a loss of local control over when badges will actually arrive.
Other changes are afoot -the abolition of the social fund is planned with funds and responsibilities transferring to local authorities from April 2013.
This reform seems to be about capping expenditure and also allows the Department for Work & Pensions to close expensive out-of-hours services.
The transfer of the independent living fund (ILF) and support for those who access it is out for consultation now. It’s good logic to bring together funding for care, but this is an odd one; the distribution of people accessing ILF funding is extremely uneven, and in this case localisation seems to be as much about capping cost as about improving distribution.
Councils need to stay alert to keep up with the fast footwork of the system shuffle.
Sarah Pickup, president, ADASS