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April 13, 2010

Culture change needed from the top down

How to deliver more for less?  That’s the challenge for local councils for the foreseeable future.  In England an initiative called Total Place  has been exploring what this might look like.  But a new report by think tank New Local Government Network, suggests that without fundamental changes in the way government operates at national level, the transformation in local services just can’t happen

Culture change from the top down

Extract from NLGN report – Greater than the sum of its parts – Total Place and the future of public services

In one of the most detailed studies so far on Total Place, the research finds that whilst billions of savings could be achieved at the local level by better joined-up services, a lack of coherencebetween Government departments and a historic reluctance to devolve threatens to derail the project.  

NLGN’s report argues that major change is needed at the centre to break existing top-down models and cultures of accountability and service delivery, which lead to significant inefficiency and wastage in public services. For instance, one local pilot uncovered as many as 50 different benefits each with their own form, rules and administrative machinery; another has calculated that it costs as much as £135m to spend £176m on economic development projects. NLGN’s analysis shows that major benefits can be unlocked by a more collaborative approach to public sector assets and building services around the citizen at a local level.

 The report advocates the setting up of a new Department for Devolved Government to subsume CLG and the Cabinet Office and the Scottish and Welsh offices to drive devolution across Whitehall and release greater freedoms and powers for locally elected politicians to coordinate activity and decide how and where services are delivered. As part of this, accountability for public health budgets and local policing should be devolved immediately to all local authorities.

It also argues that localities and national government should come to a new series of deals on devolving public money and delivery responsibilities across a wider range of services such as employment and skills. These Place Proposition Agreements would allow local areas to set out how they could provide improved services for less money as a response to the expected cuts in public sector budgets.

Further recommendations in the NLGN report include:

• Allowing councils full discretion over spend across regeneration, transport and housing in a single capital pot;
• Establishing a new Joint Parliamentary and Local Government ‘Total Place Progress Committee’ comprised of MPs and local council leaders to scrutinise cross-government activity;
• Strengthening existing Local Strategic Partnership arrangements and moving towards more statutory, incorporated and focused Public Service Boards;
• Undertaking total counts of public resources and asset mapping across all local areas as a catalyst for collaborative approaches;
• Setting up a Collaborative Leadership Academy to develop leadership across the public sector.

The New Local Government Network (NLGN) is an independent think tank that seeks to transform public services, revitalise local political leadership and empower local communities.