Johnson dubs lockdown-inspired call for public services shake-up ‘exciting’

Danny Kruger’s community-empowerment manifesto eyes creation of £2bn “Levelling Up Fund” with cash from dormant funds
Boris Johnson PA

By Jim Dunton

25 Sep 2020

Prime minister Boris Johnson has described a wide-ranging report on ways the UK can build on the community spirit prompted by this year’s coronavirus lockdown “exciting” and said the proposals are actively being considered by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.

Among the 20 principal recommendations in MP Danny Kruger’s Levelling Up Our Communities report is a call for a “community right to serve” that would allow residents, charities and social enterprises to demand more say in the design of public services in their area. Kruger said providers such as the Department for Work and Pensions or the NHS would be obliged to respond to such calls “reasonably and quickly”.

Another big idea likely to be favoured in Downing Street is Kruger’s proposal to create a Levelling Up Communities Fund to “complement” the transfer of power to local areas by appropriating £2bn estimated to be “sitting in dormant insurance accounts and other financial products”. Kruger acknowledged that the move would require primary legislation to change the terms of the Dormant Bank and Building Society Accounts Act 2008.

Kruger was chief speech writer for Conservative Party leader David Cameron for two years before leaving in 2008 to work full time on the Only Connect crime-prevention charity he had founded. Yesterday's report contains many echoes of ex-prime minister Cameron’s “Big Society” initiative. One example is Kruger’s suggestion that the principle of public service as a responsibility of citizens, not only full-time paid professionals, needs to be revived “urgently”. 

The Levelling Up report calls for a “more human, less bureaucratic, less centralised society”. At the same time, it urges the government to work with the Office for National Statistics and sector experts to agree a means of accurately assessing civil society activity and value. Meanwhile, Kruger says the National Audit Office should be tasked with measuring the social value of government spending.

As part of the evidence-base-building process, the report says every government department should have a “datalab” similar to the one run by the Ministry of Justice to assess the effectiveness of different programmes delivered in prisons by charities and private companies. Kruger said the information should be published in a digestible form, detailing what external organisations were paid and what was received in return. 

“The DCMS datalab should include complete data on all its arms-length bodies, such as the Arts Council, Sport England, and the National Lottery distributors,” Kruger said. “The Cabinet Office should be tasked with linking data across departments so the impact of cross-cutting initiatives, like the Troubled Families programme, can be measured.”

In his initial response to the report, which he commissioned from Kruger in June, Boris Johnson praised the vision displayed by the MP, who was elected to parliament for the first time in December last year.

"Your comprehensive and hugeley ambitious report contains many exciting ideas, which are actively being considered by DCMS," he said.

"I have asked secretary of state Oliver Dowden, who is responsible for the government's civil society agenda, to update you on the government's work in this area in due course."

The prime minister concluded his letter to Kruger by saying “I look forward to continuing the conversation”.

Other proposals in Kruger’s report include a “volunteer passport” system to match the supply and demand for voluntary help and simplify the process of obtaining Disclosure and Barring Service background checks; and the creation of a new “National Volunteer Reserve” to help with future emergencies and ongoing environmental challenges.

Kruger also calls for a new bank holiday called “Neighbour Day” that would celebrate communities and volunteering, which would be modelled on the Fête des Voisins in France.

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