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Core cities call for ‘place-based’ spending review

Source: PSE - Aug/Sep 15

Julie Dore Leader of Sheffield City COuncil editCllr Julie Dore (pictured), leader of Sheffield City Council and the Core Cities cabinet member for finance and investment, talks to PSE about the need for a place-based settlement and comprehensive spending review.

In late July the chancellor launched his ‘A country that lives within its means’ document, which outlines the government’s priorities for the 2015 spending review and the principles “that will guide its decisions”. 

That document explains the government’s commitment to building strong city regions led by elected mayors, building on the groundbreaking devolution deal agreed with Greater Manchester in November 2014. 

Following its publication, PSE spoke to Cllr Julie Dore, leader of Sheffield City Council and the Core Cities cabinet member for finance and investment, who said the influential group was seeking a ‘place-based’ comprehensive spending review, looking at the total public resources deployed across a city or city region. 

This would involve the government working with local authorities to design how resources can be joined up to get the best results for that place and save money, for the tax payer and for the nation. 

Improving outcomes 

“The Core Cities place-based settlement idea is really about bringing all the public money that is spent in an area together,” said Cllr Dore, adding that by doing this “we can spend that money to deliver better outcomes for individuals on a range of services they need to access.” 

Cllr Dore told PSE that this type of approach could help tackle multiple issues, including long-term unemployment, which has many underlying causes – from poor physical and mental health to a lack of skills. 

“At the moment [cities] get a budget for mental health, which is via both health and social care services. The skills funding is through the skills budget or another departmental budget. What we are saying is, if we can bring all those budgets together, then we can deal with the individual, the households, the neighbourhoods and the cities better to meet the needs of our specific areas,” she said. 

Cllr Dore, who has been Labour leader of Sheffield City Council since 2011, added that while the Manchester deal has done “some form” of place-based budgeting around health and social care, it has only brought those two particular sectors together. 

“But health and social care can be affected by numerous other things such as housing conditions, people’s skills or disability,” she said, “so bringing two parts of the public sector together doesn’t deliver a whole-person or household approach to the needs of those within that area. 

“In a sense, Manchester has gone so far down the line but place-based settlements are much more than that. They really are about looking at the amount of public money being spent on public services in an area.” 

Long-term financial settlements 

In order to deliver placed-based change and public service reform, Cllr Dore said: “We want long-term settlements not over one or two years, it needs to be over the life of a Parliament as a minimum.” 

This echoes an argument made by both the Local Government Association and the NHS Confederation, and was a Labour manifesto pledge at the last election. The government has shown only limited enthusiasm, however – although it has promised, in health and care at least, “indicative multi-year budgets”. 

It also said after last year’s Autumn Statement: “The government is also working towards enabling greater multi-year certainty in funding for schools and certainty for adult education providers where appropriate, in the context of area based strategies.” 

Doing the sums 

Cllr Dore said that in Sheffield, a ‘comprehensive service review’ of how much is spent on public services, such as health, education, housing, policing, fire, social care and local government, has already been done. The figure arrived at is between £3bn and £4bn. 

“If you look, realistically, at what you could do with that sort of money [£3bn to 4bn] over a period of time, then in the end you would get better outcomes for people. People would become more independent and less reliant on public services in the first place,” said Cllr Dore. “But you have to do it over a period of time because while you are investing in frontline services you still need to deliver the critical and acute services that people have become dependent on. There are still people in the system who need mental health services, health services, people who have gone through education that are long-term unemployed or low-skilled, so you still have to deal with those people at the same time while investing upfront. 

“The only way to do that is to be bold and brave and do it at the same time. But over time it is the demand on acute services which will reduce.” 

She added that Core Cities, which represents the councils of England’s eight largest city economies outside London along with Glasgow and Cardiff, would like to see this place-based approach rolled out across the country.

However, Cllr Dore does admit there are challenges to overcome to deliver placed-based approaches but believes this is “real devolution”. 

“I think that you have to do things at the right level and create a governance model or models that suit the area,” she said. “You have to pick the right area and right geography to select the right outcomes. It can be different. There will be difficulties around trying to change current governance, but we have legislators down in London and, if it is the right course to pursue, they should legislate to make it happen.” 

Cllr Dore added that the government “seem to be listening” to the arguments for place-based approaches, but the “next devolution deals are all about getting a bit more if you change your governance model to a mayor, to me that is not the solution”. 

“If devolution it is right and it delivers the right outcomes, surely the governance model should be about a model that can deliver it rather than one being imposed,” she said.

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