A battle over the future direction of Total Place has erupted just weeks before ministers are due to unveil their long-awaited report on the programme.
Following the Treasury’s call for the 13 official pilots to come forward with more hard numbers to substantiate savings claims (LGC, 4 March), senior local government figures have described “a messy situation”, with interested parties trying to lay claim to the initiative.
Whitehall sources also indicated negotiations were ongoing around how to present Total Place findings without handing some Conservative councils, who have long pointed to waste in local government, a stick to beat ministers with.
Among those angling for a lead role in the programme’s future is former Leadership Centre chief executive Stephen Taylor, who has approached a number of councils to spearhead a second wave of Total Place projects.
LGC understands nine councils, including Swindon BC, Harrow LBC and Birmingham City Council, are in the frame for the project, dubbed ‘TP2’.
Mr Taylor’s decision not to consult ministers before approaching councils has led senior council figures to privately suggest he may have “jumped the gun”. But having played an integral role in the work that paved the way for Total Place, his plans may have weight.
Mr Taylor said he was due to meet Department for Communities & Local Government director general for local government, Irene Lucas, this week and that he was not trying to take ownership of Total Place.
He told LGC he had discussions with the Institute for Government (IfG) and a number of councils “about co-designing a new model of local public services”.
“Radical change of this scale is a long-term endeavour,” he added. “It is contested and there will be turf wars. There are many vested interests within the old way of working.”
IfG executive director, Sir Michael Bichard, who has a lead role in Total Place, played down the plans. He told LGC: “It is a rare day when I don’t get contacted by consultants who want to get involved with Total Place.”
He did, however, admit that Mr Taylor had “a special place” in Total Place’s history because of his previous work, including the original Counting Cumbria project.
An IfG spokeswoman added: “The future of Total Place is for government to decide and is currently under discussion.”
Tony Travers, director of the Greater London Group at the London School of Economics, said there was disappointment in Whitehall about the speed at which the programme had progressed.
“If Total Place was ever going to work, it hasn’t been pursued with anything approaching urgency,” he said. “It was hardly of the scale and speed of the Titanic-sized ship heading towards the dinghy we are sitting in.
“Having the Treasury onside would mean local government had a powerful ally against the spending departments. But the Treasury will see it as faffing about, not going far and fast enough.”
A Number 10 source said: “One of the political risks … is essentially Tory local government using Total Place to say ‘we told you there was lots of waste’. There is an element of that in the internal political discussions going on.”