I hope by now that every Lib Dem Councillor knows something about Total Place. Although it is described as a Treasury idea that is not correct, although the Treasury are providing important backing for it. This was an idea that originated with the Leadership Centre for Local Government and has been enthusiastically supported by us. So what is it?
Total Place asks two basic questions:
How much does the public sector spend in totality on dealing with a problem?
What outputs and outcomes do we need to achieve if we are satisfactorily to deal with that problem?
Then it goes on to ask the killer question. If we need to achieve those outputs and outcomes with that money would we organise ourselves the way that we do now?
The answer to the third question is inevitably NO!
Let me give you one simple example. The output we want to achieve to reduce crime is to keep 20 year old men who leave prison from reoffending. Unfortunately 80% of them reoffend within two weeks and a very high proportion of them end up back in prison. To try and keep that man out of prison will involves the work of 13 different people from 9 different organisations. Although I don’t know yet how much money that involves common sense says it must be a very expensive way of achieving very poor outputs?
So the ultimate aim of Total Place will be to ensure that the public sector as a whole builds its services around the needs of the clients and communities they serve rather than around the needs of the servicing organisation. This is of paramount importance, of course, to the most deprived people and communities who depend on public services the most.
Our early findings are fascinating. Overtime a new layer of government, quango or agency is involved in a project 20% of their budget goes out in administration. By the time something happens on the ground only 50% of the sum promised by the Government may be sued to deal with a problem. Intuitively Lib Dems have always known this. It is why we have railed against the centralisation of government and the creation of quangos. Now we are getting the proof to match our assertions.
This is important work for councils who are taking the lead in the 13 official TP pilots and the 40+ unofficial ones. If we are to wrap services around communities and individuals then it is councillors and their staff who knows those individuals and communities best. This programme gives you the chance to shape the services that you know are needed. This gives us the chance to assert the primacy of local councillors in decision making about local circumstances.
BUT there are two possible problems. Are we good enough to take that lead? Coming up with hard evidence, innovative solutions and strong delivery across all the public sector in our area is not a skill that we possess in abundance at either officer or member level. Will the rest of the public sector let go. Already there are signs of institutional fight back as organisations forget the principles and seek to defend their budget and their staff.
A Total Place review across public sector services across London suggests that thinking through and merging or deleting structures could save £5 billion. Thus perhaps a saving of more than £50 billion across the UK as a whole. At a time of no growth for the foreseeable future just think what we could do with £50 billion realigned to the real needs of the community and not the posed needs of the providers.
Cllr Richard Kemp is Liverpool City Councillor for Church and
Leader of the Local Government Association Liberal Democrat Group