Time and the place, by Barry Maginn

4 Oct 10
Place-based budgeting is the next big thing on the coalition's localisation agenda. However, only by linking local funds to the benefits that community involvement can bring will we truly revolutionise public service provision

Over the course of the previous Labour government, service provision became increasingly centralised with little room for variation to accommodate local priorities. While Labour ministers eventually began to accept that funding should be more flexible and focused on the needs of service users, it is only now, with the new coalition government committed to decentralising power, that there is a real opportunity to consider radical alternatives.

While the government’s much discussed ‘Big Society’ agenda looks to provide communities with greater opportunity to control and shape how services are provided, there are widespread problems in the public sector – such as standardised, centrally-mandated service provision and the siloed, ring-fenced, approach to funding – that must be tackled to allow this vision to be fulfilled.

Fortunately, it seems very likely that place-based budgeting will be the next big thing on the coalition government’s localisation agenda. However, this should not be the end of the matter.

Localis argues in our Total Neighbourhood report, published today, that, while putting local budgets funds under the control of a strong, locally elected lead will reduce duplication, re-centre the focus on service users, and help to tackle social issues through prevention rather than (much more expensive) cure, it is by linking local funds to the benefits that community involvement and ownership can bring that we will truly revolutionise public service provision.

The emphasis of government policy should be to link place-based budgets with the Big Society. Fundamental to this concept is a change of structures and mindset, away from the standardisation and silos that exist in the current system, and towards a more flexible, integrated and user-driven model of service provision.

As part of this, community-led early intervention programmes, which have been shown to save money in the long run and also promote community cohesion, should be fostered through building a comprehensive evidence base of past initiatives to guide new programmes.

The ideas in the report could be the next step in the localisation agenda – a move towards Total Neighbourhoods.

Barry Maginn is a researcher at Localis and author of the Total Neighbourhood report. The report will be launched today at the Conservative Party Conference in Birmingham

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