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‘Whitehall is an impediment’

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Tony Travers insists that with the exception of the Department for Communities & Local Government and its predecessors, Whitehall has a poor track record of allowing funding to be pooled - which will be a major problem for putting Total Place into practice.

“Until and unless ministers and civil servants in other departments are given incentives to do it, they will always revert to type, they will always want to control their money in their way,” he says.

“Given the discussion about how Whitehall is about to be approached for reform by Liam Byrne, is there not a way of tying in these two processes?

“If Whitehall is an impediment, surely a reconfiguration of Whitehall could take this issue into account.

“All of this work has been done all around the country to work out what is spent, but generally it will be three to four times what the council spends, more if you include benefits. Once that’s identified, the question of how to break down the barriers between it is a much more important one.”

Mr Travers believes “legislation for big experiments” could be the way to go. “Take three or four authorities and say: ‘We will have pooling of everything’ and just see what happens,” he enthuses.

“Would it be possible, for example, to have exempted zones - a northern met, a midlands county and a London borough and try it out for two years?”

On Barnet, he says the way the borough has pitched its vision is a key reason it has attracted attention.

“If you unravel it, Barnet isn’t quite as radical as it suggested. The idea of applying a higher-level service and subsidising a core service with it exists in government.

“The Passport Office is a very good example of providing a higher level of service if you want a passport in 24 hours and also subsidising the core service, which is much better than it used to be.

“If you say we’re trying to find ways of providing premium services that will also allow you to provide better services for the core it sounds fine. Describe it as a budget airline and it creates a sort of pantomime.”

Tony Travers is director, Greater London Group, London School of Economics

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