Greater Manchester wants to be one of the government’s two new ‘whole place’ community budgets pilots in a move that could lead to the radical reform of local public service provision.
Manchester City Council chief executive Sir Howard Bernstein told LGC that partners across the city region welcomed the whole place community budgets prospectus published this week.
He said Greater Manchester would come to a formal position on the prospectus in the next few weeks, but that at this stage it “would be our intention to bid”.
The prospectus offers two areas the chance to work with a team of about eight civil servants from Whitehall’s key spending departments to design a blueprint for public service reform in their localities that could see all public spending pooled into a single budget.
The criteria state that public service agencies in the pilot areas should have the same boundaries, a track record of partnership working and decision-making mechanisms in place, all of which make Greater Manchester a leading candidate.
Sir Howard said it was an opportunity that local government should embrace.
“All of us, in local and central government, have got to work a lot harder together to ensure that public spending is more efficiently deployed to maximise outcomes,” he told LGC. “We’re very open to any proposals that enable that to happen.”
However, Roderick Bluh (Con), Swindon BC leader, said having only two pilots would limit what could be learned.
“They need a big county, a big Met and a unitary - so at least three pilots - to really make the most of it,” he said.
LGA chair Sir Merrick Cockell (Con) reiterated this view, but called for local government to drive forward the programme itself, with other areas developing their own pilots in tandem with the official ones.
“We shouldn’t think the government’s prospectus is the only way of making progress,” he said.
But one senior local government figure cautioned that such an approach risked framing the pilots as offering little additional value.
“So far the community budget programme has been much heralded but has delivered bugger all, apart from tortuous negotiations with Whitehall.
“[If it is not necessary to be a pilot] people may ask: what is the added value, other than a few civil servants who we probably know already anyway?”