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Ministerial groups to be wound down

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Both the ministerial and official groups leading the community budgets programme to help families with complex needs have been disbanded, sparking fears of a new centralist approach the issue.

The groups, led by junior communities minister Baroness Hanham (Con) and Lord Bichard, left, had been tasked with driving forward the programme, which had struggled to gain traction across Whitehall.

But, following the creation of former victims’ champion Louise Casey’s family intervention unit within the Department for Communities & Local Government, they have now been disbanded.

A senior DCLG official confirmed to LGC their work would be taken over by Ms Casey’s unit.

Ministers have yet to determine how the existing programme and the Casey unit will mesh, leading to fears that the work could be abandoned in favour of an interventionist approach led from Whitehall.

The LGA has offered to establish a political leadership group to take on work relating to the use of community budgets, now involving more than 100 councils.

This week LGA chair Sir Merrick Cockell (Con) urged ministers not to revert to the “failed toys” of previous governments, such as field forces, and instead build on existing achievements.

“I would recommend that the government take advantage of that and not squander it,” he said. While the unit was starting with “a nearly clean sheet of paper”, it was not “starting without a context”.

A senior source close to the situation confirmed previous reports that the community budgets programme had now split into a “twin track approach”, with the ‘whole place’ pilots taking on the public service transformation agenda, while the existing pilots would be narrowed to focus exclusively on “solving the problem of troubled families”.

“The conversation now is to what extent that will be led from the centre [through the Casey unit] or by the sector through the existing community budgets. We don’t know the answer to that yet, but the signal from DCLG is that a field force type approach could be back on the agenda,” he said.

But another senior local government figure doubted that either the Casey unit or a LGA leadership group would have the political weight to drive forward the families with complex needs community budgets programme.

“From the outset this programme has suffered through a lack of political leadership,” he said. “Until we get cabinet ministers sitting around a table and backing this programme it’s not going to go anywhere.”

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