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Community budgets lack commitment from some Departments – PAC

The Public Accounts Committee has said that Whitehall departments standing in the way of community budgets by jealously guarding their own funds and power need to be forced into action. 

The LGA said the report into community budgets is a “ringing endorsement” of the work local authorities are doing and the need to devolve power and funds. 

PAC has released four reports today, which committee chair Margaret Hodge MP said share similar themes: “A central message emerging from our four reports today is that the Cabinet Office and the Treasury together need to be much stronger if they are to exert effective corporate control over spending in departments and achieve long-term sustainable savings for taxpayers. 

“For too long these two central departments have been half-hearted in their dealings with spending departments and have failed to achieve best value for the taxpayer. Tougher leadership from the centre of government is required.” 

She added: “The whole-placed community budgets programme has involved local public bodies and central government working together to develop evidence-based plans for new integrated services. But we are still talking about proposals rather than 

“The Department for Communities and Local Government, which manages the whole place community budgets programmes has provided effective support to date. However, if central government departments are not committed to whole-place community budgets, it may, like similar initiatives in the past, fail to deliver any significant and lasting changes.” 

Sir Merrick Cockell, chairman of the LGA, said: “Today's report is a ringing endorsement of the pioneering work local authorities are doing to modernise public services and sets out a real challenge to Whitehall to give local areas more control. 

“The success of community budgets is already recognised at all levels of government and this report sends a clear message that the approach must be adopted across the public sector. It is high time that we stopped trying to tackle 21st-century problems with an outdated highly-centralised Victorian-era bureaucracy. 

“We need to rewire the way services are paid for and delivered by devolving decision making to local areas. This approach is the proven way of improving services and saving money across both central and local government. Local authorities are pioneering community budgets but only a fraction of the potential savings will be unlocked unless Whitehall commits to modernising the way it works. With the bulk of potential savings from community budgets accruing to central government the onus is on Whitehall to wholeheartedly deliver the necessary reform.” 

PAC also notes a potential contradiction between the procurement reforms and localism, saying: “The commitment to localism seems to be at odds with buying through central contracts, and Government’s desire to give more government business to small firms does not appear to have changed the way large procurements are managed and designed. The Cabinet Office needs to set out how it will resolve these issues, and clarify how it intends to deliver sustainable reform in its priority areas of procurement, digital services, shared services and management information over the next few years. The current economic position presents a unique opportunity to change the way government does business. It is therefore vital to build on early successes and move towards sustainable change with urgency.” 

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