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Darling and councils have similar objectives

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The Government and Opposition continue to be reticent about the scale and location of the public spending reductions that lie ahead. Party conferences have been told about ‘painful choices’, ‘efficiency savings’ and ‘asset sales’ but still no detail of where the axe will fall.

Polling shows how little trust the public has in national politicians. One can see why this might be true. Infantilising the public by pretending there will not be perceptible spending cuts or by suggesting ‘our cuts will be nicer than theirs’ will simply increase cynicism.

On a more positive note, there are two major government-inspired policies which offer the chance of helping the process of improving efficiency while simultaneously improving the quality of services. Total Place and, if properly delivered, comprehensive area assessments could lead to major and beneficial change within local government.

Although Total Place is yet another government initiative, it has a powerful logic behind it.  If councils and other local service-providers such as the NHS, schools, housing associations, the police and government agencies were to be able to pool resources and set joint policies, there would be an opportunity for radical change. The real threat comes from intransigence within the Whitehall baronies.

Unless the Department of Health, the Home Office and other central government departments agree to throw their lot behind the project, it stands no chance of success.

The Treasury needs to demand that the rest of Whitehall agrees to partnership-based local decision-making

Tony Travers, Director, Greater London Group, London School of Economics

A glance through the media coverage of Total Place is instructive. Council chief executives such as Stephen Hughes (Birmingham) and Jon Rouse (Croydon) are much-quoted, but there is less evidence of the other key service providers.

Have primary care trust chief officers and chief constables been told by ministers they must deliver Total Place outcomes? Almost certainly not. For Whitehall, any agreement to allow the creation of a single pool of local resources would threaten departments’ very existence.

The Audit Commission’s development of comprehensive area assessments could help in securing Total Place outcomes. The Commission, working with other inspectors such as the Care Quality Commission and OFSTED, will launch, from December, a ‘oneplace’  web-based analysis of public service performance within each primary authority area. There are clear parallels between the CAA regime and Total Place.

CAA should be the regulatory driver of Total Place, with the capacity to put pressure on all providers to work with local councils to deliver improved outcomes.

Many local authorities already feel overburdened by the demands of inspectors and regulators. If Total Place is to deliver real benefits, the CAA regime needs to be aimed squarely at ensuring all local partners begin to pool resources and decision-making. Elected local councils would be the natural leaders for this process. The Treasury needs to be brought onside to demand that the rest of Whitehall agrees to partnership-based local decision-making.

For once, the Chancellor and local government have similar objectives –  better services at lower cost. 

Tony Travers, Director, Greater London Group, London School of Economics

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Readers' comments (1)

  • So the GLG of economists, argue that caa and Total Place could deliver improvements.

    The problem is the focus is all wrong. It focuses upon cost instead of value.

    It just will not work.

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