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DWP stakes claim on purse strings

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Funding for local support services for Universal Credit claimants should be managed by Jobcentre Plus managers, the Department for Work & Pensions believes.

A framework setting out the councils can play in supporting Universal Credit claimants was published for consultation this week by DWP and the LGA. While it discussed the possibility of councils managing any funding either separately or jointly, it concluded: “DWP’s current view is, as the organisation responsible for the delivery of [Universal Credit], it should manage the funding… delegating the day-to-day management to district managers.”

A final decision on how funding for the second phase of the implementation of Universal Credit – when work done by local authority pilots and pathfinders is rolled out in a staged process between October 2013 and March 2014 – will be made when the consultation closes on 15 March.

One local government source close to the Universal Credit project said some local authorities who had a good relationship with their DWP district managers would be comfortable to let them manage funding for the local partnership agreement with councils and other bodies. However, “some will say the partnership will work better if the money is held within the partnership” the source said.

The critical issue was “whether councils are seen as commissioners or delivers”, he added.

However, the version published this week did not contain any information about the geographical staging or timeline of phase two of the Universal Credit roll out.

The document was jointly published by the DWP and the LGA, and the latter is now encouraging “as many individual councils as possible [to] put their own views forward in response to the document” in order to “ensure decisions are taken well”, according to a report due to be discussed by the LGA’s executive on Thursday.

The executive papers said “it will then be the LGA’s role to make sure those responses are taken on board by DWP”.

Local government representatives including the LGA have been in talks with DWP for several months over the wording of the document and, as previously reported by LGC, there were concerns at one point about whether it would prove possible to publish the framework as a joint document.

Following the month-long consultation, the DWP intends to publish “a more comprehensive version of the framework” by October 2013 “in time to inform LA budget planning for 2014-15 financial year”.

Peter Fleming (Con), leader of Sevenoaks DC and the District Councils Network’s welfare reform lead, said the lack of detail about timing and funding was a concern.

“It is going to be very tight coming out of the pilots” which are being undertaken by 12 authorities, end in June 2013 and are supposed to inform the wider roll out.

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