This article, written by an LGiU Policy Manager, was originally published by the MJ.
Unlike their Whole Place counterparts, the NCBs were about bottom-up, grassroots community action. The proposition put forward was that by directly involving local people, councils could produce more efficient and effective services, while devolving power and control.
Over the last few months, the Local Government Information Unit (LGiU) has been working with Kingston RLBC and the community in Norbiton to deliver the One Norbiton NCB pilot.
Looking specifically at the two themes of community safety and young people Not in Employment, Education or Training (NEETs), we have been working towards better aligning the resources of Kingston RLBC and partners alongside the community.
We wanted to test the possibilities and limits of co-commissioning with residents, transforming the way local public services are designed and managed to use their capacity and voluntary action to innovate and design and deliver services differently to produce better outcomes in Norbiton ward.
Throughout the course of the pilot, we worked closely with the community and councillors to understand their priorities and concerns and mapped these against existing public and voluntary service provision.
Through the use of co-design, we analysed the causes and impact of particular issues in Norbiton and looked at how services could be re-designed to focus on prevention and areas of greatest need.
We went through a process of spend mapping to understand the resources at play in the ward, and where there may be cross-over and duplication across the public sector.
What we found through the NCBs is that there is immense potential long-term with this approach towards meeting the most difficult challenges that local government faces.
Councils currently find themselves at a critical juncture where the challenges of rising demand for services will soon outstrip available resources and the long-term challenges that society is facing, such as an ageing population and climate change, require innovation between citizen and state to get right.
We know the key to tackling some of the most deep-rooted problems requires that communities themselves take more ownership and responsibility for solving problems from within.
The NCBs directly promote this approach by bringing communities and their insights, capacities and resources alongside those from the public sector to work together to align resources toward tackling and preventing future problems.
This should lead to more effective co-commissioning of services, but also to work towards building and sustaining capacity within communities to require fewer interventions from the state, thereby managing and decreasing demand for some of the most costly services.
Arguably, NCBs are the only game in town to do this. But, the pilot also revealed a series of issues that Whitehall and local authorities must address if this programme is to deliver the sort of public service transformation and budgetary savings that we know are needed to tackle rising demand and decreasing availability of resources.
The first is investment to save. NCBs are unlikely to deliver upfront, large cashable savings as the scale at which they operate is relatively small.
The approach is much more about community and neighbourhood development in the long-term, which will take time and resources to get right.
What all this means is that if Whitehall wants local authorities and communities to adopt this approach, they have to be clear about the additional resources available to support the approach.
Moving towards the next Comprehensive Spending Review, Whitehall should also consider the level of savings that local authorities will be expected to make, to enable the adoption of invest-to-save models of working, such as the NCBs.
Partnership working is a crucial aspect of any NCB. Much has been said about the importance of partnership working, particularly in aligning activities and outcomes across local areas.
NCBs incentivise increased and strengthened local partnership working through the sharing of data and working with the community to devise common outcomes.
NCBs encourage thinking about how budgets can be more closely pooled and aligned across different organisations. This can be uncomfortable and requires a shift towards much greater transparency and sharing of risk.
But, the rewards of doing so will be a greater focus on prevention and ultimately, improved local outcomes and savings at the acute end of the spectrum. This must be matched by increased partnership working and breaking down the silo mentality in Whitehall.
NCBs cannot continue to be a DCLG-led programme if the approach is to work in the longer-term.
Close involvement from the Treasury, the Department for Work and Pensions, the Department for Education and Department of Health is vital. Whitehall needs to address this before any further roll-out of the programme.
Whitehall has challenged local government to be radical in thinking about how to transform services, through the NCBs. The challenge back to Whitehall is that it needs to be radical, too. Local public services will need greater freedoms and flexibilities to incentivise much closer partnership working.
If local authorities invest in services to prevent young people from becoming NEETs but the local Jobcentre Plus benefits from this due to a decrease in benefit claimants, there need to be options in place to enable the JCP to reinvest some of the cash saved back into local authority preventative services.
What we found through One Norbiton was immense enthusiasm and commitment from the community and local partners to work together differently to improve outcomes in the area.
Ultimately though, if this programme is to be adopted across local government, we need answers from Whitehall on whether local partners will be granted additional freedoms and flexibilities to deliver services differently.