Posted by:18 November, 2011
I only ask because that’s what I heard a figure with a leading role in the government’s reform agenda tell a room full of chief executives recently.
The Department for Communities & Local Government is currently conducting a competition to see which two places will get to run a ‘whole place’ community budget. The LGA have complained about the limited ambition in terms of the number of pilot areas while the limited scope of the pilots themselves has been well-documented by LGC in recent weeks.
Speaking at David Cameron’s regular meeting with the commons liaison committee last week, communities and local government select committee chair Clive Betts queried the prime minister as to why the government had “wasted” its first 18 months rather than building on the work of the Total Place pilots under the previous government.
But if the government figure’s comments are anything to go by, the new administration never had any intention of building on the work of the Total Place pilots.
They claimed the sector had been “very badly advised” in pushing the Total Place concept. “It just sounded like local government saying ‘we want the power and everyone else is bad’,” they said.
If anything, ministers were sceptical about councils’ ability to join up their own services, let alone those of all state bodies in their areas, they added as the assembled local government chiefs picked their jaws off the floor.
This was a revealing insight about the disconnection between what those in local government see as axiomatic – that greater influence for local authorities over partner organisations’ affairs is a desirable thing – and the government’s complete disinterest in making local government part of the solution to a range of problems.
If the very heart of government believes that councils would build up powerful municipal states given half the chance, it helps explain why local government is being circumvented in a number of policy areas.
‘Don’t be surprised if ministers see police commissioners as more suitable candidates to commission work with young offenders’
This can be seen in policing and most notably in the drive to get people into employment, where it transpires that councils were indeed considered to deliver the Work Programme before the government plumped for a collection of private- and third-sector providers.
Don’t expect this trend to come to an end. Louise Casey’s troubled families unit currently being established in the Department for Communities & Local Government is likely to look more towards a national consortia of the private and voluntary sectors rather than councils in intervening in the lives of the 120,000 families identified by Mr Cameron as leading chaotic lives. Speaking to LGC earlier this week, decentralisation minister Greg Clark said the work done by councils on using community budgets to help troubled families would be “one of” the strands involved and “not necessarily the only component”.
And don’t be surprised if the government, keen to emphasise the ‘crime’ aspect of police and crime commissioners, sees them as more suitable candidates to commission work with young offenders than councils.
It also means that those areas who will be successful in their bids to pilot whole place community budgets will be those that go with the grain and accept that the most they can hope for is to continue to use their ‘soft power’ to bring together a range of commissioners at the local level – some with bigger electoral mandates – to work together constructively.
Today (Friday) was the day by which a shortlist for the whole place community budgets was due to be drawn up. You can bet the phrase ‘first amongst equals’ won’t have appeared in the bids of those picked.
From Civic Regalia
LGC’s political editor Dan Drillsma-Milgrom blogs on all aspects of town hall life