One of the more worrying, if refreshingly honest, comments I’ve heard from a minister came from Lord Adonis when we and the other community budget pilot areas submitted our proposals for place-based public services reform.
He said: “Pooling budgets between government departments is probably more difficult than negotiating international treaties.” 1
I’ve always been an optimist, so every time I hear a statement I don’t like, I tend to have an internal debate to try to reconcile what I don’t really want to believe.
So it helped that the other speakers at the national community budgets conference in late November were buoyant about the importance and future prospects for community budgets, at both ‘whole place’ and ‘neighbourhood’ level.
“I’m amazed to say the numbers [in the whole place pilots’ business cases] stack up,” said communities secretary Eric Pickles.
If that’s not enough to convince you, the recent report from consultants Ernst & Young draws on detailed information from each of the whole place pilots and makes it clear that community budgets at scale could realise strong financial and non-financial benefits. 2
‘Realising benefits’. It trips off the tongue but what a dangerously simple way to describe the most vital stage in determining how great ideas get to fly or fail.
Every day now, partners in Essex - clinical commissioning groups, our district and borough council colleagues, the new police and crime commissioner, voluntary sector organisations, businesses and many others including the county council - are doing the painstaking, detailed, collaborative work, locally and nationally, to make our proposals a reality.
And this is the key. It’s one thing to have a shiny set of ideas but I’m the first person to say that a business case is worth nothing if it doesn’t lead to the changes it describes.
But for any sceptics out there, we don’t have time to wait for all of our proposals to be implemented and evaluated to then judge if it’s worth rolling out the ideas.
Sometimes it needs a leap of faith. We know our proposals can work and there is evidence to support this - so the leap is not too far. As we get closer to implementation, plans will evolve and improve, but I know that partners in Essex, working with Whitehall, can see them through.
Dan Gascoyne, assistant director of corporate policy, strategy and partnerships, Essex CC