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LEADER - HAS BLAIR FINALLY LEARNED TO LET GO?

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Social exclusion drive raises spectre of more targets...
Social exclusion drive raises spectre of more targets

There are worrying signs that Tony Blair's renewed push to tackle social exclusion will fail to learn from Labour's mistakes.

In his speech this week to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, the prime minister delivered a blizzard of data quantifying the social realities that thousands of local government front-line staff dedicate their working lives to overcoming. Although much of what he said was old news to councils, it is significant and welcome to hear him articulate the challenge with clarity and insight.

In particular, the central message that early intervention in problem families is cheaper, more effective and saves the community from a great deal more pain than waiting until a child has gone off the rails is one that will be endorsed by many of those frontline staff.

Even better, Mr Blair declared: 'We need to liberate professionals to work ingeniously - strip away the rules, conventions and hierarchies that prevent them doing what is best in each individual case.'

This sentence should be nailed to the council door every time an inspector calls. But has anyone nailed it to the door of the Social Exclusion Taskforce?

Further on in his speech Mr Blair called for 'a serious drive to root out poor performance'.

This raises the spectre, already rumoured (LGC, 31 August), that the new drive will be underpinned by precisely the sorts of national targets which hobble attempts to tackle social exclusion, not enhance them.

The social exclusion minister is Hilary Armstrong, who has form on top-down control of councils as New Labour's first local government minister. She will unveil her plans next week, with more details to follow in this autumn's local government white paper.

The government needs to accept that over-prescription from the centre has undermined the

effectiveness of the billions it has poured in to tackling social exclusion. 'To liberate professionals to work ingeniously', as the prime minister demands, is precisely what is required.

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