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Panel calls for councils to get greater flexibility to deliver services

Strong performing councils should be given greater flexibility over how services are delivered and funded, and a £5bn transformation fund should be created from existing pots of cash, according to a new report from the independent Service Transformation Challenge Panel.

The panel was chaired by former and current local authority chief executives Sir Derek Myers and Pat Ritchie, who spoke to PSE in our June/July issue about the challenges of redesigning services without new money. It was set up in April to look at how the government could deliver better, more open public services centred around individuals and family's needs rather than working in traditional Whitehall silos.

They were asked to recommend changes which would help public services deal with demographic changes, increasing expectations and the need to reduce the cost of public services.

The report, ‘Bolder, Braver and Better: why we need local deals to save public services’, calls for three main fundamental changes:

  1. That local and central government use the person-centred approach of the Troubled Families programme to design services for groups and individuals with multiple and complex needs.
  2. More easily accessible and more flexible funding for the up-front costs of transformation, but not more cash overall.
  3. Radical improvements in how data and technology are used to provide smarter services.

Panel co-chair Pat Ritchie said: "Public services should be built around a new person centred approach to help specific groups and individuals with multiple and complex needs. We recommend that agencies should be incentivised through place based budgeting or pooled budgets to work together more effectively to achieve this. We believe that the government should prepare the ground so that this approach can be put into practice in the next spending review."

It also made 20 further recommendations that include local authorities, who have strong governance and partnership working, should be allowed to make “deals” with government to allow them greater flexibility over how services are delivered and funded.

Additionally the report proposes a £5bn transformation fund should be created, including the transformation and innovation funds from across Whitehall as well as additional prudential borrowing and capital flexibilities.

Other recommendations include:

  • Local and central government should make better use of all public assets, building and land, to fund service integration and growth.
  • Service users should presume that, when accessing public services, their information with will be shared with other public service provider in order to improve service quality and outcomes.
  • Government should insist that all regulators and inspectorates encourage and support collaboration and integrated services.
  • Government should establish an independent What Works Centre to gather and validate evidence of services that deliver better outcomes for less and encourage their adaption in other places.

Sir Derek said: "It is clear that the traditional approach to public services is not working. It is no use for individual organisations – be it council, police, health, Jobcentre Plus or another – to concern themselves with just one aspect of somebody's very complex problems. This has, tragically, not delivered better outcomes for a great many people and it has not reduced the need for costly support. We have called for the government and places to work together and create better interventions for those groups of people who contribute, for whatever reason, to the increasingly high demands on public services."

Communities and local government secretary Eric Pickles welcomed the report saying that it showed how the government can continue its focus on frontline services by putting people first and building services around them.

“The successful Troubled Families programme has shown how by bringing services together in a common sense way we can get better results and save money for the taxpayer too,” he said. “This report now provides us with a blueprint as to how we can take this approach forward into other areas such as jobs, skills and early years, and as we are already doing with health and social care through the Better Care Fund.”

The Society of Local Authority Chief Executives (Solace) believes that the report sets a challenging and “stark” test for those who deliver public services.

Graeme McDonald, director of Solace, said: “We particularly welcome the call to develop the evidence base for what works across local public services. Too little emphasis has been given to evidencing the impact of transformational approaches, and to identifying which can or should be replicated and delivered at scale. Local decision makers have too little trustworthy advice to help with practical decisions.

“The numerous ‘transformation funds’ are a symptom of this, where the latest Ministerial pet project is funded in splendid isolation of either strategic direction or robust evidence. They are inefficient but, more importantly, recreate new sets of silos that are barriers to person centred approaches to service delivery.”

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