Councils hoping to join the government’s community budgets scheme have submitted bids to join its second wave despite ongoing uncertainty about the programme and its “tight” deadlines.
Harrow LBC, the six councils of the West London Alliance, which includes Harrow, and a range of public service bodies in Cambridgeshire have all submitted expressions of interest by the deadline set by the Department for Communities & Local Government.
Harrow chief executive Michael Lockwood said it had been a “tight” timeframe between the 22 March announcement of the community budget ‘transformation network’ and the 15 April deadline.
“I don’t know how many people knew about [the deadline]. It was quite a tight window of opportunity,” Mr Lockwood said.
However, he added that closer working with other local bodies “has got to be the way forward”.
The authority had already done “obvious stuff” such as restructuring. A 1% saving on the £2bn combined public service spend in Harrow would save £20m, he said.
Harrow is also involved in a second bid with its partner West London Alliance authorities: Barnet, Brent, Ealing, Hillingdon and Hounslow LBCs.
Ealing chief executive Martin Smith said the alliance bid would focus on economic growth, employment and skills but said he was not sure how the network would work.
“I am not sure anyone does. We will just take it as it comes,” he said.
A Cambridgeshire bid involving six councils, police, fire and health services would focus on “ageing well” and troubled families.
Cambridgeshire CC chief executive Mark Lloyd agreed the role of the network was not yet clear but that partners could “see the advantage of us forming a close association with Whitehall”.
The DCLG declined to disclose how many expressions of interest it had received.
A spokeswoman said: “The network is a partnership that brings together forward thinking councils and local services, that require tailored support, with government departments and agencies.”
The ‘transformation network’
The government has committed £1.5m to the network but it will be a collaborative effort involving councils as well as departments and agencies. The four pilot areas - the tri-borough authorities, Greater Manchester councils, Cheshire West & Chester Council and Essex have already committed resources.
DCLG has indicated that that the network will support a larger number of councils than just the pilot groups through a rolling programme of activity. Support for areas will not be delivered as a one size fits all offer and support will be designed collaboratively.