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We need to remodel service provision - not tinker

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Those looking for a glimmer of hope amid the gloom of Alistair Darling’s pre-Budget report (PRB) last week might have alighted upon one sentence in particular.

By stating “the government will assess the efficiency and effectiveness across government of interventions to tackle worklessness and promote growth and inclusion in deprived areas, and the institutions that deliver them”, the chancellor left open the possibility that remodelling the existing architecture of local public services might yet take place.

That such hope needs to be searched for is largely a result of the disappointment of the Smarter Government initiative that week.

Smarter Government was devised partly to pre-empt and partly to provide a response to the interim report from the Total Place pilots that was submitted to the PBR.

It aimed to address targets, funding regimes and the pooling of money. But on the whole it was about reviewing and fine tuning the existing system, not implementing the transformational change required to bring about shifts in culture and practice, with realisable, enhanced outcomes.

The initiative offers the opportunity to create the necessary driver to incentivise work around economic development and wellbeing.

But nowhere in the report (the subtitle of which is ‘putting the front line first’) is there any mention of making the local authority the ‘first among equals’ in local strategic partnerships, or being the source and conduit for total local public expenditure.

Nor is working to the local area agreement as the needs assessment, strategy, action plan, funding document and performance management framework mentioned. Yet this is the only way local public service providers’ work can be truly integrated.

The remodelling of the existing architecture is necessary to address the needs of communities. By acting as a conduit for local public funding, the LSP is the gateway for these agencies to access funds, with the resultant requirement for them to integrate their services.

Similarly, there was no mention of economic drivers in the report. How will the totality of local public services expenditure address economic conditions locally (and therefore for UK plc) without an economic driver?

The preconditions to economic growth are influenced by the whole gamut of activities of local public services contributing to general wellbeing.

Yet there is no attempt to drive and relate such work, or realise sustainable local economies connected to the real economy.

Instead, the most deprived individuals and communities will continue to be marginalised; lost communities will be made reliant on public services and financial support at a high economic and social cost, resulting in ever-dependent individuals and local communities disengaged from civic life.

These are the consequences of not acting, and the reason why one sentence in the pre-Budget report will be attracting attention.

Adam Fineberg is an Independent Consultant and a Local Improvement Advisor. He is currently involved with the Total Place programme in Bradford and Yorkshire and the Humber. He advised the Innovation Forum, provided expert evidence to the 2005 Number 10 Strategy Unit review on Deprived Areas which called for an economic emphasis in local efforts for regeneration, also the Treasury’s Sub-National Review of Economic Development and The Lyons Review into the future of Local Government. The ‘growth coalitions’ and ‘smart local government’ project informed the development of the 2007 Sustainable Communities Act, (see www.fineberg.org.uk).

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