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Community budgets 'undermined by data problems'

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Place-based budgeting will be frustrated unless local authorities better understand the value and management of the data from which efficiencies are sought, a report has warned.

Socitm, the public sector IT managers’ organisation, looked at evaluaton studies from the 13 ‘Total Place’ pilots under the previous government’s Operational Efficiency Programme.

Total Place was based on the assumption that uncoordinated spending by different agencies within a community leads to duplication, waste and poor outcomes.

The Socitm report, Too many cooks: the information management implications of place-based public services, concludes that there were problems over the willingness among those involved to share data and its presentation. It cites an example in which one project was given information about live births, housing benefit and council tax benefit while another was unable to access any of this data, with legal teams quoting the Data Protection Act as a barrier to acces

Data formats are also seen as problematic: “Data may refer to different areas, or be aggregated at a level higher than the locality of interest. Double counting becomes an issue where there are different tiers of government. Finally, the sheer volumes of information involved present analytical and presentational problems,” the report says.

Author Chris Head calls for local, joined-up, evidence-based approaches.

“Public services need to get their information assets in order and ensure that employees have essential skills in analysis, presentation and interpretation of data in order to deliver evidence-based decision-making,” he said.

Socitm trawled the final reports from the pilot projects run in Birmingham, Bradford, Coventry, Solihull & Warwickshire, Croydon, Bournemouth, Dorset and Poole, Durham, Gateshead, South Tyneside & Sunderland, Kent, Leicester & Leicestershire, Lewisham, Luton & Central Bedfordshire, Manchester City and Warrington, and Worcestershire.

The report says that although information and data were not primary concerns of the Total Place pilots themselves, the evaluation studies from almost every one raised serious issues about information availability, quality, sharing and management.  

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