Control over services inches downwards

The Community Budgets scheme has taken another small step towards achieving change, finds Sarah Aston

By Sarah.Aston

15 Dec 2014

The government should give well-run local areas far more flexibility over how services are delivered and create a £5bn fund to support reforms, the co-chair of the Independent Service Transformation Challenge Panel told an audience in Parliament last month.

Pat Ritchie (pictured), who is the chief executive of Newcastle City Council, was launching the panel’s report – which also calls for better data-sharing between local agencies, more collaborative use of public assets, and the establishment of a ‘What Works Centre’ for local service provision.

The government should commit to the report’s findings “in anticipation of the next spending review”, said Ritchie, arguing that they offer “national and local government a framework which gives places the powers to do things radically differently.” She called for three “fundamental changes”: more use of data and technology in service delivery; widespread adoption of the person-centred ‘Troubled Families’ approach; and more up-front investment cash to fund transformation.

The panel was set up in April alongside the Public Sector Transformation Network, in a bid to ensure that the lessons of the Whole Place Community Budgets pilot result in better local services. “We really believe that government has a big role to play here,” said Ritchie. 

Junior communities minister Kris Hopkins responded that there is a “desire” to start work on the changes, adding: “This report shows some of the ways we can rethink some of the ways our services are structured.” A day later, he announced the names of 73 local projects that will receive £89.4m from the Transformation Challenge Award.

Following the report’s launch, chief secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander said: “The panel’s report makes the case brilliantly and I look forward to leading this agenda in the coming months.”

The Autumn Statement subsequently gave Treasury backing to an extension of the Troubled Families approach; a review of available funding, and of ways to stimulate digital innovation; and progress towards longer-term funding for schools, adult education providers, local authorities and CCGs.

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