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Pickles admits community budget drift

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Eric Pickles has admitted the embattled community budgets programme has been lacking direction and leadership after being appointed to “kick-start” the scheme.

The communities secretary told MPs he was “playing catch up” with regards to the progress of the programme and admitted that his department “might have been guilty of optimism”.

Mr Pickles said: “The prime minister last week put me in charge of this. I think there are some things that are really good there. I think that there are some things that are less good.

Asked who was in charge of the programme before last week, he said: “I think it was the secretary of state for good intentions and they hadn’t done such a good job. I am playing catch up.”  

The programme was being headed up by a ministerial group chaired by junior local government minister Baroness Hanham (Con), who Mr Pickles said had done some “sterling work”.

Mr Pickles also told the communities and local government committee that he would be publishing an eagerly awaited prospectus for the advanced community budget pilots by the end of the month.

The move appears to address criticism from senior figures, such as crossbench peer Lord Bichard, who chairs a community budgets steering group of senior civil servants and practitioners, who have slammed the lack of cabinet level leadership of the programme.  

LGC exclusively revealed that the community budgets were watered down after obtaining draft terms of reference for the second phase of the local government resource review, under the Freedom of Information Act.

The papers revealed there was originally a much stronger commitment to the concept of bringing all funding for local public services into a single pot than was evident in the final version published in June.

The published terms of reference, which set out plans to pool budgets across two local authority areas, were criticised by senior sector figures who told LGC they feared the terms allowed too much “wriggle room” that would enable ministers to back out of a commitment to cross-Whitehall pooling.

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