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Improvements by 2020? Computer says NAO

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LGC’s essential daily briefing.

Today’s big interview: Tower Hamlets mayor John Biggs

Devo resurrection of the day: Fresh bid for Leeds City Region deal

Today’s top comment: Richard Humphries on integration

Reading the National Audit Office’s most recent reports reveals the government is not exactly on track to deliver on big ticket commitments in relation to settling refugees, improving child protection, tackling the housing crisis and integrating health and social care in this parliament as promised.

The NAO’s latest report focuses on the government’s efforts to encourage integration of health and social care services by 2020. It has found the government is coming up short. The NAO said integration had been hindered by rising demand and financial pressures on local government and the NHS. The government had failed to address barriers to integration such as misaligned financial incentives across health and social care, workforce challenges, and resistance to information sharing, the NAO said. To top it all off, the £5.3bn spent through the better care fund had not reduced emergency admissions by 106,000 as targeted – in fact, admissions rose by 87,000, costing £311m more than planned. 

In January the NAO turned its attention to the housing crisis and examined the government’s ambition of building a million new homes between 2015 and 2020. Here the NAO had two bones to pick with the government. First, it said delivering a million new homes by 2020 “[did] not require a substantial change in the number of homes delivered in England each year”. In fact, according to the Chartered Institute of Housing, the government’s target would not actually provide enough homes to keep pace with need. Some critics also claimed the government did not believe it would hit its underwhelming target anyway, as it had stopped referring to “one million homes in this parliament” and started to talk about “one million homes by the end of 2020” – after the next general election. Perhaps the housing white paper could come to the rescue? Then again, perhaps not if LGC’s acting news editor David Paine is right.

Refugees and this country’s response to the crisis has been in the news again after the government announced last week it is to shut down the scheme to bring unaccompanied child refugees to the UK under the ‘Dubs’ amendment. In September 2016, the NAO warned that even though the government thought it could settle 20,000 refugees by 2020, a closer look at the figures told a different story. The government said it could meet the 20,000 target, based on the number of “informal pledges” made by councils to provide the necessary services for refugees. However, the NAO suggested these “indicative” agreements were meaningless until formalised and warned 4,390 new homes and 10,664 childcare or school places would be necessary to make it work. Councils that had not committed to participating in the scheme – more than a third according to LGC’s July research – cited concerns about funding and existing pressure on housing and schools.

Child protection was under the NAO’s microscope in the autumn. Since 2010 the government has taken a range of actions including reforms to social work, a revision of statutory guidance, and the allocation of £100m to promote innovation in child protection. However, the NAO’s report on child protection said the Department for Education’s initiatives had achieved “disappointing” results; that the quality of child protection was “unsatisfactory and inconsistent” across the country; and that this suggested “systemic rather than just local failure”. It said government intervention in failing organisations often came too late, and because the DfE did not collect data on outcomes for children in need aside from in education, councils and central government had no way of telling which approaches were effective. It urged the DfE to “step forward and show a sense of urgency and determination in delivering on its responsibilities” in order to fulfil its ambition for widespread improvement by 2020.

Most would agree that what the government says it wants – whether its helping vulnerable refugees, protecting children in need, providing adequate housing and improving health and social care – are laudable aims. However, the NAO’s analysis suggests the government’s delivery to date has been patchy.

With the Institute for Government recently warning that Brexit will engulf already-overstretched Whitehall departments (if it hasn’t already), there’s a chance more balls will be dropped.

Based on the NAO’s assessments, prime minister Theresa May has got a big job on her hands if she is to create a country that works for everyone.

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