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Community budget pilots eye service reform

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Councils involved in piloting community budgets are preparing to demonstrate radical models of public service reform to ministers this summer in a bid to help tackle the challenges of the next spending review period.

A meeting being brokered by communities secretary Eric Pickles between the four pilot areas and government ministers to review the progress of the pilots half-way though the year-long process has been pushed back to July in order to allow the pilots to demonstrate “tangible propositions”.

And some of the pilots are looking at proposals that go beyond the pilots’ original remit to run ‘proof of concept’ exercises. A progress report drafted by the Greater Manchester pilot described a proposal for a ‘public sector city deal’ that would involve reorganising public services to deliver savings and better outcomes.

Greater Manchester is working on redesigning services around health and social care, offender management, troubled families and early years. The city is keen to demonstrate that new ways of investing in and delivering services in these areas across the whole public sector can both achieve savings through the “decommissioning of existing services” whilst also being scaled up to work at levels wider than just the city.

Steven Pleasant, chief executive of Tameside MBC who is overseeing the pilot, left, said this work would be “absolutely relevant” to the next spending review period.

“What we are trying to do is put something back into government to answer some of the questions posed by the next spending review,” he said. “We know it’s going to be incredibly difficult so we want to give some worked up examples of the sort of things we think we can do as soon as is feasibly possible.”

An official leading the work of one of the other pilots said they were also “hoping we have something that will help inform spending review considerations”, while another said they had been “encouraged to think open-mindedly” about the proposed new powers that have been made available as part of the city deals process.

The sector has begun preparations for the next spending review period that is expected to bring funding cuts as severe, if not worse than, the 28% reduction councils have been handed between 2010-11 and 2014-15.

Senior mandarins have described the outlook as “scary” and the LGA is gathering evidence about the cost pressures the sector faces.

Initial plans to commission one of the major consultancy firms to do the financial modelling were abandoned, with various treasurers societies instead asked to assist before the LGA presents its case to ministers next month.

LGC understands officials from the Department for Communities & Local Government have requested evidence from the sector to help it make the case against the Treasury repeating the 28% cuts seen in this spending period. One senior local government source described their attitude as “promising”.

Mr Pleasant also said it was important that the work of the pilots was considered in other areas of public service reform currently being discussed.

The Ministry of Justice is currently conducting a review of probation services in England along with reforms to community sentencing. The review said the consultation would investigate the potential for “public bodies such as local authorities or police and crime commissioners to take responsibility for probation services”.

Mr Pleasant pointed out that the current probation service had been very supportive of the work the city was doing on integrating offender management with council-run services such as housing. He would not be drawn on whether handing control of probation to a police and crime commissioner could jeopardise this joint work, simply saying: “We need to make sure changes that come through support the work we have done – we need to make sure we can achieve a complimentarity.”

 

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