It was always unlikely that last week’s Budget was going to deliver any significant new initiatives. For local government and its wider public sector partners, the publication of the Total Place report, just 24 hours later, was always likely to be the more significant announcement.
It was always unlikely that last week’s Budget was going to deliver any significant new initiatives. The perceived wisdom across the political divide had long since recognised that the Chancellor’s speech was, more than ever, the equivalent of walking an electoral tightrope. In the end, apart from raising the ire of cider drinkers, those elements of the Budget that dealt with public services mainly sought to reiterate the messages and targets from earlier policy announcements including the Operational Efficiency Programme and Smarter Government initiatives.
However, for local government and its wider public sector partners, the publication of the Total Place report, just 24 hours later, was always likely to be the more significant announcement. The final report, drawing conclusions from the initial 13 pilots, has attracted significant attention and cross party support and is widely recognised as setting “a new direction for local public services and local authorities”. As such, the Total Place initiative is almost certain to remain unchanged regardless of political developments over the coming weeks and months.
The Total Place report and recommendations are based on the 13 pilots undertaken in the last year involving 63 local authorities, 34 primary care trusts, 13 police authorities and other partners, with more than 70 other local areas engaged in similar work. These pilots covered a population of more than 11 million people, accounting for more than £82 billion of public spending in their areas. The work undertaken by the pilots included a diverse range of multi-stakeholder service areas including children’s services & early years, drug & alcohol misuse, mental health & learning disability, access to benefits, housing regeneration and asset management.
The picture drawn from the 13 pilot reports was one of a dedicated and ambitious public sector hampered by a disjointed and inefficient system for delivery of local public services. Problems included:
The Total Place report is an ambitious proposal and clearly sets out to deliver the step change in local public services that is both desirable to improve citizen outcomes and, in the current economic climate, a financial necessity. Initial headlines have highlighted three major policy developments to achieve this:
The report, perhaps inevitably for such a complex issue, also details a wide range of proposals that affect a considerable number of policies, organisations and initiatives. These proposals will throw up a number of organisational and cultural issues; they will also present a number of legal challenges, including:
At a time when all local authority departments are under intense pressure to save costs and, in some areas, reduce headcount, it’s clear that legal teams will come under greater pressure to deliver the legal solutions to facilitate this new direction for public services. Legislative change will be required in some areas but even with a proposed Power of General Competence, interpretation and application of a wide range of existing legislation will be needed. The combined requirements of Total Place and the Operational Efficiency Programme will require new formal partnerships between organisations, changing working conditions and contracts of employment, widescale asset transfer and disposal, innovate procurement and robust contracting that delivers efficiency whilst all the time minimising risk and protecting the public sector.
We are clearly entering a new and challenging era for local public services.