Treasury announces further Total Place pilots

26 Mar 10
The Treasury is to conduct a further round of Total Place pilots and has pledged to grant more freedoms to the best-performing councils
By David Williams

26 March 2010

The Treasury is to conduct a further round of Total Place pilots and has pledged to grant more freedoms to the best-performing councils.

Total Place: a whole area approach to public services was published by the Treasury on March 25 and expands on commitments made in the previous day’s Budget.

The pilot exercises involved public bodies in 13 areas identifying where savings could be made if their separate budgets were brought together as a single sum. Removing duplication in this way could result in 2% savings in all locally-controlled public spending, amounting to more than £1.2bn in 2013/14, yesterday’s report said.

The Budget revealed plans to remove centrally imposed ring-fences from £1.3bn of local authority grants starting in 2011/12, and reduce the number of Whitehall funding streams to local government from 110 to 94.

A set of ‘single offer’ agreements will give consistently high-performing authorities freedom from central performance targets and financial controls, the report said. This will involve local agencies working in partnership with central government to redesign local services to become more efficient and provide better value.

‘Innovative policy offers’ will be available to a wider range of places, and will give local agencies greater financial collaboration powers on a single policy area, such as policing.

The Treasury has also announced a further 11 ‘Total Capital and Asset Pathfinder’ trials, intended to increase the value of capital investments across the public sector through looking at local government property as a whole. Areas involved include Cambridgeshire, Hackney, Hull and Solihull.

The proposals have been broadly welcomed by local authorities, but some commentators have said the reforms do not go far enough.

David Parsons, chair of the Local Government Association’s improvement board, said the report was an ‘important first step’, but needed to be followed up with ‘bolder and more concrete action’.

He welcomed the removal of some ring-fences, but added: ‘Only a radical redesign of how local services are delivered will ensure the savings and benefits of Total Place are fully realised.’

Lord Bichard, whose work on the Operational Efficiency Programme of last year provided the basis for Total Place, called the move ‘important’ but acknowledged the proposals fell short of what the most ambitious localists were expecting.

‘Some will feel that it does not go far enough in some areas and that, for example, there is scope for reducing further the level of ring fencing and the numbers of performance indicators,’ he said. ‘It does, however, show that government is listening to the feedback from the Total Place pilots and takes the initiative to a new level.’

Local government expert Tony Travers said that the Treasury and Department for Communities and Local Government might have wanted to go further with the proposals but had been thwarted by the rest of Whitehall.

‘It is progress but not the radical step I would have expected, given the state of the public finances,’ he told Public Finance.

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