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Coalition puts Total Place at risk, warns Denham

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Shadow communities secretary John Denham has cast doubt on the Conservatives’ commitment to pooling public sector budgets and responsibilities within localities.

In his address to the Local Government Association conference, Mr Denham said the Tories’ fragmentary approach to public services risked leaving Total Place or area-based budgeting “still born”.

“Everyone knows this approach can’t be taken by the Department for Communities & Local Government alone, it only works if all the other government departments are equally committed to working together, not pulling apart on local public services spending,” he said.

Pointing to the Tories’ support for academies and free schools, their plans to hand commissioning functions to GPs and introduce directly elected sheriffs as having the potential to undermine local authorities, he added: “The early signs are not good.”

He said the consequence of the coalition government “fragmenting spending into more and more and smaller and smaller pots” would be to magnify the impact of cuts “as each service retreats to its core”.

With the coalition due to publish a new decentralisation and localism bill later in the year, Mr Denham pledged Labour would take “a wholly constructive approach”. He said that if the bill gave local government the powers to “bring together, to shape and coordinate all local public service spending in each area”, then his party would support it.

Mr Denham also defended the local government pension scheme, claiming councils had a “social, economic and moral duty” to defend it against those that wanted to “slash the security it provides”.

He claimed the scheme was “in robust health” thanks to reforms made by the Labour government and that “the baby of a good and affordable pension scheme” should not be “thrown out with the bathwater of shorter term financial pressures”.

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