A lack of joined-up working across Whitehall departments risks undermining the Government’s Total Place initiative according NLGN’s new report.
In one of the most detailed studies so far on Total Place, the research finds that whilst billions of savings could be achieved at the local level by better joined-up services, a lack of coherence between Government departments and a historic reluctance to devolve threatens to derail the project. The report is timed to inform the debate around the future of Total Place before further announcements are made in the Budget.
NLGN’s report argues that major change is needed at the centre to break existing top-down models and cultures of accountability and service delivery, which lead to significant inefficiency and wastage in public services. For instance, one local pilot uncovered as many as 50 different benefits each with their own form, rules and administrative machinery; another has calculated that it costs as much as £135m to spend £176m on economic development projects. NLGN’s analysis shows that major benefits can be unlocked by a more collaborative approach to public sector assets and building services around the citizen at a local level.
The report advocates the setting up of a new Department for Devolved Government to subsume CLG and the Cabinet Office and the Scottish and Welsh offices to drive devolution across Whitehall and release greater freedoms and powers for locally elected politicians to coordinate activity and decide how and where services are delivered. As part of this, accountability for public health budgets and local policing should be devolved immediately to all local authorities.
It also argues that localities and national government should come to a new series of deals on devolving public money and delivery responsibilities across a wider range of services such as employment and skills. These Place Proposition Agreements would allow local areas to set out how they could provide improved services for less money as a response to the expected cuts in public sector budgets.
Further recommendations in the NLGN report include:
- Allowing councils full discretion over spend across regeneration, transport and housing in a single capital pot;
- Establishing a new Joint Parliamentary and Local Government ‘Total Place Progress Committee’ comprised of MPs and local council leaders to scrutinise cross-government activity;
- Strengthening existing Local Strategic Partnership arrangements and moving towards more statutory, incorporated and focused Public Service Boards;
- Undertaking total counts of public resources and asset mapping across all local areas as a catalyst for collaborative approaches;
- Setting up a Collaborative Leadership Academy to develop leadership across the public sector.
‘The concept of aligning all public resources in an area around the needs of its community is simple and commonsense. Putting it into practice, however, remains a major challenge not just for local areas but also for Whitehall. The changes needed go way beyond merely removing a few ring-fenced budgets or performance targets. Our cultures of governing and our current systems of funding and accountability cut through and undermine our focus on what the citizen needs.
‘With public sector budgets under pressure, it is more important now than ever that we seek to institute reforms that can ensure the most targeted and efficient responses to our local communities. This must include greater freedoms, responsibilities and resources at the local level.’
NLGN’s report was undertaken with support from Cap Gemini, Grant Thornton, Leadership Centre for Local Government and London Councils.