Community Links

Community Links blog

Posts Tagged ‘local government’

What are you for Mr Hammond?

Thursday, February 23rd, 2017

8 Months after he picked up the keys to No11 it is difficult to discern any clear pattern or purpose to Philip Hammond’s Chancellorship.

His most decisive action to date has been to cancel the annual ritual of a spring budget. The one he presents to the House in two weeks’ time will be the last. In future the budget is to be rolled into the autumn statement and delivered before Christmas. It’s a sensible reform but scarcely spectacular. On all matters economic the Chancellor has ceded visibility, if not control, not only to the PM but also to other ministers, particularly Boris Johnson, even to David Davies. March the 8th will be his moment in the sun and a chance to answer the question “what is Philip Hammond for?”

On taking office last July the new Chancellor spoke about a “new phase” for the economy. Contrary to some of the reporting at the time and some of the comment that has filled the void since then, he didn’t say that austerity was over but that it was “right to review the pace at which the government balanced the books.”  Is that review now completed? And if so will he be challenging the conclusion of the IFS Green Budget which claimed last week that “The rate of reduction (in levels of day-to-day public service spending) is set to speed up after this year, with cuts of nearly 4% due between 2016–17 and 2019–20”?

This matters because it is these kinds of numbers that have led Lord Porter the chairman of the LGA, to warn this week that services supporting very vulnerable people are “at breaking point”.  Lord Porter, the Conservative leader of South Holland in Lincolnshire, subsequently said he was “hugely disappointed” by the funding settlement for councils which was set out by the Communities Secretary in a written statement  to parliament yesterday: “As we continue to bring the deficit down” wrote Sajid Javid “local government, must continue to play its part”.

Trolleys in corridors have become a familiar picture on the front pages this winter and such has been the level of disquiet on the government’s own benches that the Chancellor will surely have something in the budget for the NHS. Anything less will risk mutiny. But doctors and hospitals are part of an ecology of care that reaches out through domiciliary services, reduces need through strong public health programmes and builds resilience and wellbeing through a diverse range of community services.  So the question is not about whether Mr Hammond responds to the crisis but about whether he sticks a bandage on the creaking fabric of an acute sector that faces irreconcilable trajectories of demand and resource or  becomes the first chancellor to really grip the necessity for prevention and for a cross government “need reduction strategy” stretching beyond the NHS, into other arms of government, particularly local government, and on to the community sector where some of the most effective (and cost effective) work is already going on. Our own work on a community development approach to the early detection of cancer for instance has increased the take up of cancer screening appointments in east London by 15%.

Clinicians at the huge and ferociously overworked London Hospital just down the road from Community Links tell me that one in five beds are taken up by patients whose condition is caused by, or seriously exacerbated by, diabetes. We know that more than half of all Type 2 diabetes can be prevented or delayed by simple life style changes and the most basic early action. Ultimately it is only a sustained investment in this kind of preventative work that will enable our hospital, and the many others like it, to deliver the high quality acute services that they should be delivering.

The budget that the Chancellor is writing could buy enough new trolleys to placate his own side of the House for a few months more or it could set out the simple but ground breaking measures for the longer term transition to a preventative economy that I suggested in my address to the All Party Parliamentary Group last year  and that we have detailed in the various publications of the Early Action Task Force. It’s time to decide Mr Hammond. What are you for?

Spending Review 2015: The Good, the Bad, and the Hanging Question

Friday, November 27th, 2015

As the dust settles on the Spending Review three topics attract my attention:

Social Impact Bonds

First the Chancellor allocated £105 million for new Social Impact Bonds (SIBs) tackling youth unemployment, homelessness and poor mental health. Like many useful ideas the SIB has many parents. Community Links is the oldest. Back in 2006 Community Links supporter Peter Wheeler, then working at Goldman Sachs, was visiting our Alternative to Custody project. We had been contracted by the Home Office to run a 12 month programme. Payment was dependant on 90% of the young people turning up 90% of the time. As Peter noted this metric bore no relationship to whether or not the programme succeeded in reducing re-offending. If it didn’t reduce it there was no benefit for society so we shouldn’t be paid anything, if it did the long term value was far greater than the unit cost and we should be paid more. The payment mechanism needed to recognise the value of prevention rather the cost of deliGeorge Osborne 0480amvery.

Peter told me about the International Finance Facility – a cross sector instrument which had been developed by Goldman Sachs to facilitate child immunisation in developing countries. Cutting a long story short we considered how the mechanism might be adapted for tackling domestic challenges first taking a sketchy outline to the then Chancellor Gordon Brown and subsequently developing it through the Prime Ministers Council on Social Action. Social Finance did all the hard yards brilliantly turning a simple concept into a working model and eventually launching the trail blazing project reducing reoffending in Peterborough. Now there are 31 SIBs in the UK alone and over 50 more worldwide

SIBs don’t, as some more excitable ministers and commentators appear to believe, instantly dispense with the need for public expenditure on issues like homelessness or re-offending. We will only do that when we have successfully dispensed with homelessness and re-offending. They do focus public money on successful interventions, not on process, and so facilitate investment in new developments without risk to the public purse. In our favourite metaphor they can pay for the fence at the top of the cliff without garaging the ambulance at the bottom unless and until people stop falling over the edge.

Some SIB projects won’t work, but failures like the recent Rikers’ Island attempt to reduce re-offending in New York may be deeply disappointing for the participants but actually vindicate the model. A new approach was trialled, it failed, investors lost out but the tax payer didn’t. Public servants are always nervous about risk and particularly averse at the moment when every penny is needed on the front line. I am worried about whether the Cabinet Office will have the capacity to deliver this programme (and also an ambitious expansion of the National Citizen Service) whilst their own budget is cut to the marrow but, that aside, the new money should allow us to keep pushing forward on the prevention agenda at a time when so many other funding streams are drying up or have already disappeared. It is good news in an otherwise gloomy statement and that, sadly, takes me to my second point….

An end to austerity?

Osbornes statement on Wednesday emphatically did not “usher in the end of austerity” as the Daily Telegraph gleefully proclaimed. Even the Chancellor was keen to nail that fiction: “It is not an end to the difficult decisions” he told Radio 4’s Today programme. “There are going to be difficult choices for different government departments. Billions of pounds of savings, billions of pounds of savings in the welfare budget as well. This spending review … takes those difficult decisions in day-to-day spending so we can invest in the long term.”

Lord Porter, the Conservative chairman of the Local Government Association spelt out the scale of those “difficult decisions” for local authority leaders: “Even if councils stopped filling in potholes, maintaining parks, closed all children’s centres, libraries, museums, leisure centres and turned off every street light they will not have saved enough money to plug the financial black hole they face by 2020.”

We know from the PMs correspondence with the leader of Oxfordshire that this will have devastating, potentially life threatening results for Council service users everywhere. In areas like east London where provision has already been cut to the bone and services are already under staffed and under siege the consequences are almost unimaginable.

I can understand the chancellors political choices (and be clear, the bulk of the burden is borne by the poor – that is a political choice) but it is plainly bonkers to argue, as Mr Osborne did, that cutting public health , youth work, even ultimately social care and children’s services allows the nation to “ invest in the long term” . As Luke pointed out on this blog yesterday, underinvestment in these services is as foolish and myopic as underinvestment in roads and railways. We will be paying the price for years to come.

The hanging question

Finally my hanging question: Immediately before the Spending Review statement on Wednesday the PM described the Big Lottery Fund (BLF) as “an absolutely excellent organisation” and the Chancellor did not then talk about raiding it’s coffers as I feared that he might. Mr Osborne did however announce the £300m expansion of the National Citizen Service without explaining where the money is coming from. The Blue Book is also mute on the subject. A policy adjustment for BLF nudged through in the months ahead rather than a wholesale diversion of funds announced in the Spending Review would be an easier path for the Chancellor to take but amount to the same thing. I hope very much that my doubts are misplaced and unworthy. Lots of people, far better placed than me, are reassuring on the subject but I will still sleep a little easier when we know exactly where the £300m will be coming from.

The Duty to Collaborate

Friday, September 30th, 2011

Working together to join things up!Why isn’t common sense, common practice? This is one of the questions we’ve been exploring in the Early Action Task Force.

We look at cuts in youth work resulting in higher crime and more work for the police, maybe the NHS, probation, the courts, the prison service, bigger bills for households or for businesses – for repairs to property, higher insurance premiums or further security. And we’ve not begun to think about the social cost of blighted estates or wasted lives. Yet still it gets cut because none of those agencies are funded or otherwise incentivised to employ detached youth workers.

One of Tony Blair’s first acts as Prime Minister was to declare a committment to “joined up government”, working together on understanding and promoting the common interest. The worthy but modest Total Place programme animated the intention morphing eventually into the current work on Community Budgets and, most recently in the July White paper , Neighbourhood Budgets. Fourteen years on pooled bugets and collaboarative working is still the sparky new idea and still the exception on the ground way out ahead of the vast majority.

Thus, as a society, we are more likely to spend on coping with the consequences of problems than address the causes and prevent them from occurring. Joined up government’ is undoubtedly hard to achieve on a national level but good early action projects achieve it with individuals. For example the Place2be are based within schools, working with young children who are struggling in some way, either socially or academically. But the nature of the support is left up to the staff and counsellors – it could involve working with the parents to sort out mental health or benefit problems, letting the child play, supporting more formal learning, or something else entirely. This approach of working with the whole person and their environment – not just concentrating on a child’s reading ability but also their relationship with their parents, for example – cuts across many of the successful projects we’ve looked at in our Early Action work. But how to replicate this approach across public services?

Of course government is complex and collaboration is often delayed or even thwarted by structural barriers but I don’t think this is the biggest problem. In practice the pilot programmes allow local authorities and many other public agencies to do very little that they couldn’t do already. It’s not the rules but custom and practice, institutional culture, personal fiefdoms that get in the way.

Joint working and collaborative budgeting are what the localism agenda is all about but allowing local authorities the freedom to choose to do it, or not to it, will be its undoing. Without stronger leadership, localism will stop on the steps of the Town Hall and eat itself.

Local authorities are the natural leaders on this territory but perhaps its time to stop offering pilots and pathfinders. What if the offer was replaced with a duty – the Duty to Collaborate? What might that look like? And what if it was accompanied by a right for others – the right of any other local service provider to lead such a collaboration and require the cooperation of the local authority if the council fails to step up?

A Duty to Collaborate and a Right to Lead: without such clear direction common sense – a stitch in time – will never be common practice