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Community Budgets: a worn out approach?

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While local public service providers await the prospectus setting out further details for the second round of Community Budgets, there is one thing that those who have been around for a while can be sure of.

Government is invoking the terminology and movements around “pilots”, “rounds”, “single area budget”, “options for pooling or aligning resources” which rings a bell in relation to the development and evolution of the predecessor funding regime emanating from CLG, Local Area Agreements.

As with Community Budgets, LAAs were an attempt to rationalise a range of disparate funding regimes emanating from different ministries of state, as a centralist, managerial response to local managerial problems. Community Budgets are similar, but with the benefit and hindsight of the experience of the Total Place programme, providing a veil of ambition to benefit ‘end-users’ of local public services.

There is still no main driver or overarching strategy to join up and integrate the interconnected system of local public services and the way in which individuals engage with these services, contributing to people’s well-being.

I have argued, through the work of the several year old ‘growth coalitions’ and ‘smart local government’ project, (prior to the idea of LAAs, Total Place or Community Budgets) that factors afflicting the local public services ‘system’ cannot be resolved, and ‘wicked issues’ (now identified as those affecting many of the recent rioters) significantly addressed, without utilising the ‘tools’ of Government and the existing mechanisms for local partnership work and service delivery ‘to make things work better for local people’.

I maintained that all relevant funding for local public service delivery should be accessed locally via the conduit of the Local Strategic Partnership. The LSP, building upon their work on the Sustainable Community Strategy and experience of LAAs, should be open to and determine local membership from the range of organisations concerned with the provision of local public services.

Together, they will undertake a joint analysis of local issues for public service delivery, develop a needs assessment and a strategy and action plan to meet objectives. The themes, programmes and projects will be SMART, identifying service providers, providing a locally determined performance management framework and open dataset.

The totality of this LSP work can be presented as a document to be negotiated and agreed with a government regional presence – perhaps BIS. This is the way to “kickstart” local public services to the benefit of all members of the local population, not just families.

The local population and valued frontline workers are core to this approach and effort to coordinate and integrate local activities to best benefit the end user, not the central or local public service organisation managers. Perhaps this is a good way to value and engage with frontline workers as part of the solution, as opposed to encouraging managerial changes in organisations, promoting the development of mutuals and the enforced introduction of competing providers of services. These proposals will upset and change the ‘whole system’ to the detriment of the forever pressing need to successfully address particular issues in local communities.

Only this locally determined local service provision will be funded by government, ensuring that there is a coordinated, aligned or pooled approach, as necessary. Local public service provision and its expenditure will be lead by the ‘driver’ that is local people’s issues and experiences of local services in addressing these issues. Necessary efficiencies for local organisations will accrue from this process.

The focus for the work of the LSP, being a ‘growth coalition’, ensures that the preconditions for local growth are considered with local growth becoming an overarching objective and glue that links disparate elements together on the basis that what’s good for local communities is good for local business - and vice versa.

This movement (driven centrally by The Treasury, supported by Number 10) in turn, for the first time, provides the real opportunity for business to engage with, contribute and add value to local public expenditure decisions and actions arising from these decisions. It facilitates investment and the development of the local private sector economy – a key requirement and necessary contributing factor for national growth.

Growth and jobs are intricately associated with and have inter-dependable impacts upon the conditions found in local communities and affect individual well-being.

Quite clearly, there has been an evolving managerialist model for the funding and provision of local public service provision which has become increasingly distant from the notion of engaging with and directly addressing the issues found in local communities. This, despite all of the excellent practice of frontline workers on the ground making the system work the best they can to meet the real needs of local people.

Whilst I have been proposing an approach to address the managerialist model and the deficiencies mentioned above, I have also reflected on this cyclical movement arising from the introduction of similar, yet differently presented CLG funding regimes and see the evolving Community Budgets regime as the current representation of this periodic movement.

As a pragmatic practitioner, I am supporting local areas to lead and resolve these issues by engaging local communities and the valuable frontline workers who are attempting to work to individual needs.

Working currently with Pendle Borough Council and Lancashire County Council, I have been engaging with frontline workers from the range of local public service organisations and elected members to develop Pendle’s locality model to deliver services around hubs and integrated teams. The project is initially refining and building on the “Total Family” programme for the county. The ambition is to extend this practice to take in the whole gamut of local public service provision.

The local public service “system” is being given a new lease of life and re-designed, with simplified, universal mechanisms, processes and protocols to free up and empower the frontline worker, valuing them and recognising their key skills and experience. They in turn are working in the best interest and finding the most suitable way to meet the needs of local citizens requiring support, tailoring and taking responsibility for the unique package of preventive and early “interventions” that are being put in place by local multi-agency teams.

The work of this process is taken to managers and local leaders at the LSP, becoming the driver for service integration and change, regardless of local, regional and central government contexts and circumstances. 

Adam Fineberg is a Local Improvement Advisor.

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