“What do we want?”, “Placed based budgeting!”, “When do we want it?”, “Now” is probably not going to be the slogan that you hear being chanted at demonstrations over the next few months about government proposals to deal with the inherited financial mess. It would however be the best thing that we could all campaign for.
Without a doubt the most important thing I did during conference was to arrange a tour of a ‘Total Place for Neighbourhoods’ scheme that plus dane housing is running for the Liverpool City Council in Liverpool 8. Danny Alexander the Chief Secretary were there with his senior advisers but just as importantly we were joined by Norman Lamb, the Chief Adviser to Nick Clegg after a chat that Nick and I had the week before.
There is no doubt that the Lib Dem side of the government , and I assume the Tory one as well although I cannot speak for them, have embraced the concept of ‘Total Place’ and its follow on ‘place based budgeting’.
Danny and Norman came to a meeting of people from a variety of public, private and tiered sector agencies looking at problems in three wards in North Liverpool. The meeting was composed of senior people from those organisations and the Labour Leader of the Council came as well. The council is continuing work started by the Lib Dems when we controlled the council and is looking at the total spend by the public sector in those areas. Frankly public spending is inefficient. It’s not that the individual organisations do not work hard or that the people in those organisations don’t work hard it is just that there are too many organisations and no clarity about joining up services around inviduals and communities.
Danny Alexander is right when he says that the biggest waste of public money is the failure of the public sector to join up service delivery. Even after the budget reductions to deal with the deficit the Country will still be spending more than £700 billion per year on the vast range of services that the public sector provide directly or indirectly. Given time we could have found all the savings required to meet the deficit by making changes in those service delivery mechanisms. Of course time is what we do not have if we are to stop the interest bill rising. We believe that you could save 10% on the costs of delivery and provide better more focussed services. It is abundantly clear that the reverse also applied. Extra spending by Labour on public services did not see a concomitant rise in outputs and outcomes for people.
Place based budgeting needs all of us in the public sector to behave with a new maturity. We need to forget the needs of our own organisation and concentrate on the needs of the people we are seeking to help. We have to recognise that our professionalism is only part of the mechanism for dealing with the complex needs of societies and individuals.
There is of course a down side to this. One man’s efficiency is another man’s job loss. But if we focus existing tight resources better around public need then as the economy grows and the debts are paid off we can expand service delivery into areas and in a depth that we have not been able to touch.
On Wednesday I have a formal meeting with Nick alongside Margaret Eaton the LGA chair. With one voice we will reiterate LGA policy and ask the DPM to be bold in reforming the public sector. By doing that we can save cash and help more people – a win, win situation that Labour was never able to achieve.