Community Budgeting – What a disappointment

In 2009 the LGA worked with the Treasury to undertake a fundamental review of the way that the public sector delivered services within our community. I have blogged on the ‘Total Place’ concept before as I have blogged about ‘Community Budgeting’ which flows from it. I won’t therefore go into details about why we should be doing things differently and what we should be doing.

What I find really sad is that the CB work announced in the Comprehensive Spending Review about ‘Families with Complex Needs’ is going very slowly indeed.

We always knew that comprehensive change would take time so I must not be too critical. These families can involve 20+ organisations and people from 30+ backgrounds and professions. For decades we have been dealing with such families badly and have allowed to occur inter-generational helplessness and worklessness. Already police can tell which 16 year olds they will be picking up in 20 years time as generation after generation repeats its mistakes and we fail to deal with them comprehensively.

This is terrible for the family and appalling for the rest of us. The families are locked into a way of life that is different from the other 99% of us. We spend a fortune on dealing with them and the aftermath of their behaviour. A small 4/5 member family can cost the public purse up to £300,000 according to a study fromWestminstercouncil – and I believe them.

There are three problems which government – central and local need to tackle:

The organisation problem. People are locked within the silos of service delivery which have built up over decades. We are all protective of our own silos, especially when our mortgage depends on their continued existence.

The ‘ology’ problem. We have a lot of people with an ‘ology’ in something (remember the old Beattie ads for BT). In local government alone we have about 480 professions and skills groups within our sector. When our sector meets other sectors it can all get out of hand. The profession and the qualification often encourage people to think inside a narrow set of tram lines. Too little professional training involves listening, partnership and innovation skills.

The leadership problem. To change the first two problems we need very strong – even hyper strong – political and managerial leadership. There does not seem to be much of it about. Heads need cracking. Structures need breaking down. A new spirit which brings together services around the needs of the people and communities that need them most and not about the needs of the delivering organisations needs to be inculcated.

This is not a criticism of any particular Minister, not even my favourite ‘bete noir’ Eric Pickles but central government must be a lot more determined to bring about long lasting change than they appear to be. There are only two national government departments that can do this in my view:

Cabinet Office. This work involves major changes in our ‘unwritten constitution’. We need to break down some of the central government structures inWhitehall; some of the ways that they relate to their own apparatchiks in the regions and neighbourhoods. Where better to do this than the Cabinet Office which is responsible for constitutional matters.

Treasury.         The financial savings that will be made if we deconstruct and reconstruct the way that we do business are huge. We could save up to 20% of the cost of local service delivery if we do this and do it well. If we could achieve just 15% savings we would need to make no further cuts in public services.

This is not a tirade against central government because I need to ask how well our councils and councillors are working for change and innovation. Some of them are up to the mark but by no means all councils are ready for the decisive change which I think is required.

So collectively we need to up our game. By now we should be getting lessons out to wider audiences about:

  • Families with Complex Needs and How to deal with them
  • How to deconstruct and reconstruct silos to make them work effectively.

We should already be thinking about the next area of activity to take on. I would like to do something about the way we treat ex-offenders to stop them becoming repeat offenders.

But it is not for us or the government that change needs to be made it is for the families themselves. 120,000 families are trapped in this cycle of despair in this country. When I meet one of them I join that despair. They are locked out of our way of life; they have no aspiration and they are destined to fail.

Surely all the silo keepers; all the ‘ologies’ and all the leaders can come together when the evidence is so clear and save them.


About richardkemp

Leader of the Liberal Democrats in Liverpool. Deputy Chair and Lib Dem Spokesperson on the LGA Community Wellbeing Board. Married to the lovely Cllr Erica Kemp CBE with three children and four grandchildren.
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