Community Budgets are demonstrating their potential to deliver cheaper, more integrated and more effective public services, says the Communities and Local Government Committee in a Report published today. They are at risk, however, states the Report, of becoming the latest 'shiny new idea' replaced after a few years if key issues are not resolved.
If this opportunity is missed, the Committee warns that local services could come under unsustainable pressure in the face of increased demand and reduced budgets. This in turn may result in more spending later on judicial and emergency health and welfare interventions.
The Report calls on the Government to send a clear message that it will assist every local authority wishing to introduce Community Budgets and to set out the specific assistance it will provide them with. Furthermore, the programme of pilots must not be allowed to slow progress towards wider implementation, states the Report.
Clive Betts MP, Chair of the Committee, said:
"Community Budgets are already demonstrating the clear potential to provide more effective public services, tailored to the needs of local people. As such, they offer a vital lifeline to local authorities grappling with increased demand for services and reductions to their budgets.
Strong local leadership and a clear commitment from central government are now needed. Otherwise this potential won't be realised and Community Budgets run the risk of being consigned to the scrap heap of forgotten-about shiny new ideas.
It is right to test a policy with pilots. But with yet another wave of pilots, we are reaching the point where progress may become bogged down in a plethora of pilots. The Government must send the clear message to every local authority, whether they are part of a pilot or not, that they will be supported if they wish to introduce Community Budgets."
If they are to succeed, public service providers and local authorities must realise investment in Community Budgets will bring them benefits. Local authorities, their partners, and central government should, therefore, develop a framework for agreements on how the benefits of investment are to be shared, states the Report.
Noting that joint working is essential if Community Budgets are to succeed, the Report welcomes the progress made in this area between some central government departments and pilot areas. The Committee expects further significant progress in the next six months, however, and encourages central government departments to provide high level secondees to community budget areas where possible. The Report also emphasises that central and local government must overcome a cultural aversion to data sharing.
Commenting, Clive Betts said
"Community Budgets will only succeed if they are viewed as beneficial by those involved in implementing them. Clear agreements are therefore needed on how the benefits of investment are to be shared out.
Because of the way services are organised in silos at the moment, one service won't spend money when the benefit accrues to another service. Community Budgets have the potential to break this culture of petty barriers.
To do this we need data demonstrating the savings and improvements to services that can be brought about by Community Budgets. Without the evidence it will be difficult to gain the support of local partners and HM Treasury. It is essential, therefore, that the aversion to data sharing in central and local government is overcome."
"Given that a significant proportion of the savings from Community Budgets are likely to accrue to central government, it is right that it should invest up-front in their development. This should include providing central government secondees and responding constructively to requests from local authorities for pump priming funding.
I was disappointed to hear that the Essex Whole Place Community Budget experienced problems gaining agreement from BIS for some of its proposals. Government must avoid perpetuating existing silo mentalities. Overcoming the cultural barriers to joint working will not happen immediately, but we expect to see significant progress on this within the next six months."
On the Troubled Families Programme, the Committee is supportive of the work being done but highlights the need for greater focus on how work with these families will continue after the programme ends in 2016. Noting that the resources available have not increased in proportion to the number of families added to the programme in June, the Report calls on DCLG to monitor carefully progress and provide more resources to local authorities if necessary.
Clive Betts said
"The work of the Troubled Families Programme is welcome. But it will be wasted if the families are abandoned when the programme ends in 2016.
400,000 families were added to the programme in June, but the resources available have not increased proportionally. The Government needs to monitor this situation and must be prepared to provide more resources if necessary."