Cllr David Finch Speech to NLGN Community Budgets conference

Speech to NLGN Community Budgets conference, 22 OCTOBER 2013

Thank you Brandon for your comments. And thanks to you, to Eric and to your officials for helping local areas take their plans forward and achieve better outcomes for less money.

The spending round announcement of £3.8billion to forge a new integrated relationship between Health and Social Care is a big step forward. Together with the continued support for Troubled Families work, it is a shining example of central government taking integration seriously. I commend CLG and Health Ministers for it and it needs to be a beacon in Whitehall to cast light on what can be achieved.

I want to start by taking a step back and looking at what can be achieved in local areas if public service reform and integration is taken seriously. I want to talk about the thirteen BILLION pounds the public sector spends in Essex each year.

  • Over three billion on benefits, pensions and employment programmes.
  • Over two billion on health.
  • Half a billion on police and the criminal justice system.
  • Local authorities – twelve districts, a county and two unitary authorities – spend over four billion between them on transport, social care, schools, libraries, housing and waste.

And there’s more besides that list. Thirteen billion pounds. But no single point where those outcomes join up in a coherent and efficient way. And it’s our behaviours that are at fault. A culture of organisation before outcome results in too much on duplication of services.

Too much because we intervene in crisis but not when the light is on amber.

And too much spend on acute services when early intervention reduces demand and improves quality of life.
“The way it works” hasn’t worked well enough and we should be angry about the effect it has on our residents.

So I’m angry that we have a skills system with more than thirty-five funding streams that businesses tell
me is too hard to navigate.

I’m angry that over a year into the Youth Contract it’s supported just twelve 16 – 17 year olds in Essex to what they call a “sustained progression”…

And I’m angry that we have a Work Programme that has helped only one in six 18-24 year old clients in Essex into sustained employment.

The responsibilities of programmes I mentioned lie with at least three Departments, a host of Ministers and many, many officials in Whitehall. It’s a crazy situation where I’m required by law to report on NEET numbers but can’t make the changes I know can work.

I could stand all of that if local areas didn’t have the plans and ambitions and the achievements to make it work better.

But we do. We’ve got apprenticeship programmes and skills programmes that are reducing NEET numbers and increasing outcomes better and faster than national programmes.

So we need to change. And it’s behaviours, not structures, that matter.

Community budgets isn’t a magic wand to change an old-fashioned approach. Local partnerships acting under unprecedented financial pressures have done that. But as a pilot area, Community Budgets has acted as a catalyst for Essex.

It has brought partners together and promised them that central government would stand shoulder to shoulder with them. It has forced us to set aside our name badges and focus on where we need to be as a county. And it has created the space in which joint plans have been developed which will pursue and invest in the shared outcomes we must work to.

But what have we done? How far has Community Budgets brought us? It’s easy – too easy – to just look at the numbers.

Ernst and Young and the LGA showed that if Community Budgets was rolled out nationally, we could deliver net savings of anywhere up to to £20.6 billion over the next five years. But our share of that – £400million in net benefits – is only part of the story in Essex.

We are committed to Community Budgets because of the huge potential of more people skilled for better jobs.; Healthier, safer and more resilient communities.

And a more responsive system that shares data and puts money where it can best help – almost always earlier than is the case now.

So now in Essex multi-agency teams support three hundred families delivering the right services when it’s right for the family, not when it’s right for the bureaucrats. And ninety-nine of those families have been helped already.

We are tackling domestic abuse, where of the eighteen thousand reported incidents in Essex last year nearly half were repeat incidents.

Our pilot projects are working to help six hundred victims of domestic violence and our joint strategy board is providing the leadership and planning across Thurrock, Southend and Essex to tackle this grave issue better together.

On health, we’re not waiting to see what happens. We’re changing it ourselves.

With the leadership of councils and CCGs, we’ve worked for a year to move towards integrated commissioning because we know that only by working together – health and local government – can we do right by our residents in tackling health problems earlier.

So there is success. And there’s much more to come.

We’re designing social impact bonds to invest in tackling the scourges of our society: drug abuse, alcoholism, social isolation.

And we’re developing new proposals to pool publically held land in Greater Essex and build the housing on it that our communities need.

Community budgets isn’t just something you do and move on from. It’s a cultural shift in how we design and deliver together.

But we need to be honest too.

There’s a tendency to look at the numbers on a page and consider them banked as savings when in reality they are a lot of work and a lot of action away.

The LGA’s figures. The Ernst and Young figures: all warmly welcomed by government. I even have the letter from the Prime Minister to prove it.

He said “your plans are great examples of innovation in the public sector. You showed that people on the ground know what is best and how to get better value for money.”

Well I hope the Prime Minister gave the same message to his Cabinet colleagues because those better outcomes and value for money won’t happen without a real shift in their attitude and a commitment to action rather than just warm words.

Community Budgets has worked really well on the care and community side.

If you have your strong local partnerships and a bit of buy-in elsewhere, you can go on and do it. But where we tried to use community budgets as an economic development tool we hit a brick wall.

Looking back when the four pilots were launched, Brandon will remember Eric’s call to end, and I quote:
“Whitehall’s monopoly over public money that’s hemmed in frontline workers for decades”.

But if you’ve been working on proposals to support economic growth, it just hasn’t happened.
Certainly not in county areas which represent 46% of the population.
What we have is piecemeal.

Some skills pilots with a couple of LEPs that nobody seems to have any detail about.
And of course a lot of really valuable work done by and for cities.
That’s brilliant, but localism isn’t just throwing a bone to a few cities and saying “box ticked: job done”.

And it’s not saying “you can do it but only through a LEP”.
Essex is a big enough place with big enough ambitions and big enough achievements to make things happen in our own way.

We could have had a year’s progress, a year of agreements between Essex and Whitehall that represents a ground-breaking “County Deal” for growth.

And a skills system that replaces national fragmentation with our local, employer-designed system run by a partnership of businesses, colleges, providers and Universities.
But we haven’t got a year further… we’ve only got a year older.

So when I read Vince Cable telling SOLACE that he’s up for devolution of skills to local areas, I think about the Essex plan, backed up by evidence, that his department have spent a year rebuffing.
We don’t need more words. We need more action.

The Public Accounts Committee in their insightful report on integration of government last month said “if central government departments are not committed to Community Budgets it may, like similar initiatives in the past, fail to deliver any significant and lasting change.”

What a shame it will be if this is just another initiative thrown away.
And you’re not just throwing away ideas.

You’re throwing away life chances.

You’re making a crude calculation to throw away improved outcomes because you want to retain central control. And that’s crazy because as Ernst and Young showed those benefits fall in financial terms to Whitehall through more people being in work and better health outcomes.

We’re all having to make difficult decisions.
We all know our resources aren’t infinite.

So we know we can’t continue to commit endless time and effort and resource on negotiations that don’t seem to be going anywhere.

We’ve done our job for our places. Ministers need to do theirs.
Change has to start at the top.

The Treasury and the Cabinet Office needs to back us up.

The Chancellor needs to provide a lock on localism by incentivising integrated working and holding money back when spending departments choose to hang on to their cash.

They’ve threatened it but I think it’s time for that threat to become a promise.

So today I have written to the Chancellor asking him to outline the measures he will take to ensure that in every spending round, at every autumn statement and in every budget he will direct Departments to actively seek integration and decentralisation rather than blocking it.

It’s something the Local Growth Cabinet Committee should oversee. And the Treasury should have an additional minister working jointly with CLG to make sure it happens.

My goal is a healthy and prosperous society in Essex where services work for people first not for bureaucrats.

I am confident that despite the tough choices we face in this difficult climate we can still increase the life chances of people who may only have one chance left.

And we can reshape local public services so that in ten or twenty years’ time we don’t have to.
But we need the freedoms and flexibility and yes the funding that comes with it so we can do more of it.
And to do that we must demonstrate with evidence, with strong partnerships and with a single voice that Community Budgets can provide for the permanent cultural change that focuses on the best outcomes for our places.

Thank you.