Communities and Local Government Select Committee: Inquiry on Community Budgets

On Monday 20th May, Laura Wilkes, LGiU Policy Manager gave oral evidence to the DCLG Select Committee Inquiry on Community Budgets, alongside Sir Merrick Cockell, Chairman and Paul Raynes, Head of Programmes, at the Local Government Association.

The Committee asked wide-ranging questions about the Whole Place and Neighbourhood Community Budgets, including:

–       How to make Community Budgets work;

–       The role of central government in the programmes;

–       The role of local government in taking forward Community Budgets;

–       The success of the pilot schemes and the evidence gathered to support this;

–       Next steps for Community Budgets.

A summary of the evidence given is set out below. To watch the session in full, please use this link.

Making Community Budgets Work

Opening the session, Labour Committee Chair Clive Betts asked when the various community budget initiatives would “get to the real thing”.

Explaining that things were moving in the right direction, Sir Merrick Cockell said that the four pilots had improved services and that the next stage was making them work.

Laura Wilkes said that Community Budgets work and it was clear that they had made savings. However, she warned that they were not a “silver bullet”. In order to make the budgets work, Laura argued that the following was required: collaboration across Whitehall; flexibility for local governments; support from central to local government; clarity over what councils wanted to do with community budgets; and work around spend mapping.

Role of Central Government

The Chair asked what Government could do to incentivise departments to get involved. Laura argued that greater freedoms and flexibilities were needed to ensure that local authorities were able to match funds against the outcomes that they wanted to achieve.

Paul Raynes said that the LGA had put various suggestions to the Treasury on how to unlock funds. These included a lock and key model and encouraging departments to work together.

Sir Merrick said that the Department of Health had been particularly keen to engage with the LGA on community health budgets.

Laura added that it would be useful to look at reinvesting savings from across the public sector into preventative work that local authorities carried out.

Role of Local Government

Conservative MP Heather Wheeler asked what local government should do to drive forward community budgets.

Most of the responsibility lay with Whitehall, Sir Merrick said. He felt that local authorities should bring all affected stakeholders together to evaluate how they would make community budgets work effectively. Sir Merrick went on to argue that community budgets were not easy solutions as investments were needed upfront.

Patience was also required with neighbourhood budgets, Laura argued. The LGiU experience from the One Norbiton pilot was that at the neighbourhood level, Community Budgets took longer to mature, develop communities and realise savings.

Pilot Schemes

Labour MP Andy Sawford asked about the success of the pilots as compared to the earlier neighbourhood pilots.

Laura Wilkes advised that the pilots needed to be owned by the community, rather than driven by the civil service. She stressed the need to ensure that the lessons learned from the pilots were shared, welcoming the innovation network that was being set up to take the work forward.

The difference, Sir Merrick explained, was that this time the Government had invested civil servant resources into these pilots. The civil service had been able to see the schemes work in practice, he stated.

Conservative MP John Stevenson wondered what the advantages and disadvantages were of neighbourhood budgets as opposed to community budgets.

Neighbourhood budgets involved closer collaboration between services and communities, but this took longer to realise savings, Ms Wilkes replied. She went on to argue that they were effective at making communities resilient.

Measuring Success

Labour MP Simon Danczuk asked how the success of community budgets would be measured.

Responding, Mr Raynes explained the need to ensure that savings were made and services were protected. Moving towards early intervention and prevention was also important, he said.

The perfect should not be the enemy of the good, Ms Wilkes said, explaining that the data may not be exact but examples showed that community budgets worked, so now is the time for the sector to get on with taking the programmes forward.

View the LGiU written submission to the Select Committee.

To learn more about Community Budgets, and to enquire about LGiU support please contact: laura.wilkes@lgiu.org.uk