In 2010 the Government announced its intention to pilot Community Budgets as a method of integrating public services. It wasted time and effort by trying to re-invent a similar programme it had inherited.
Basically, Community Budgeting recognises that, if you are going to provide the best services, there must be freedom to redesign services locally. This follows through the policy of best value – focused on continual improvement to provide services that are efficient, effective, equitable and responsive. However, to achieve that, all the players have to be committed, flexible and willing to give up power and resources to get the best outcomes.
This doesn’t happen easily. There are cultural barriers to overcome at all levels of government and their agencies - as well as service users and voluntary organisations –and new systems to put in place. The challenge of doing this in the current economic and financial climate conditions cannot be underestimated.
The all-party Communities and Local Government Committee, which I chair, has been reviewing the government’s pilots. These were four 'Whole Place' Community Budgets and ten 'Neighbourhood' Community Budget areas. We also looked at the progress of the Troubled Families Programme, the priorities of which—turning around "troubled families" by integrating public services and tailoring them to families—came out of the Community Budget programme.
We found that the pilots are already demonstrating the clear potential to facilitate cheaper, more integrated and more effective public services. However, achieving that potential requires strong local leadership and a commitment from central government to facilitate local flexibility. It also requires a framework for agreements on sharing the benefits of investment.
Getting the biggest benefits will also require risk-taking – including the risk of failing occasionally. There isn’t a successful company in the world which, even after doing all the essential research and analysis, doesn’t occasionally get a product wrong and have to withdraw it and go back to the drawing-board. Public services are no different, but politicians, the public and the media have to be a bit more grown-up about this. There aren’t any successful organisations which rely on a blame culture.
You can read more about the Committee’s findings at: