Elections, referendums, Coalitions and ten years of lost productivity. 2008 seems like a long time ago – but in devolution terms 2010 seems even longer.
In 2010, the dying embers of the last Labour government released the ‘Total Place: a whole area approach to services’. At the time I worked in a county council and remember being struck by two things – one that it was a sensible idea, and the other that its flaw was the no one got to keep anything. No power, no money and no new wealth. In essence, Total Place was to have a single approach to issues in each area, with the necessary resources pooled not only locally, but also, and in my opinion more importantly, pooled resources in Whitehall.
To me, the Total Place agenda remains the Grandfather of devolution. It inspired, alongside the necessities of the budget, the decentralisation of the problems, with 1/3 of the resource, and pittance of a little bit of revenue generation through NNDR (eventually).
But what is missing, how has the descendant of Total Place worked in the absence of a wider structure? Taking stock of the myriad of boards and panels, LEPs, CCGs etc. It seems the quango-cracy which Eric Pickles wished to kill has been replaced with a local series of policy/ service based principalities with a rump of people common on each. The principle of doing things at a local level is largely accepted, but in the rush to devolution, we have attained a form of decentralisation which at best as localised the problems whilst restricted the solutions.
This is not meant to seem so flippant, the effective result of the last eight years are a series of local versions of what was seen as the problem in Whitehall – isolated panels and boards working together at a strategic level but also concerned to preserve their own income and resources whilst accusing the others of doing so. There is no accusation here as this is precisely what all public providers are doing, from Colleges to Councils, LEPs to CCGs no one benefits from pooling and can actively lose if it generates savings which Central Government can claim.
Consequently, our challenges at a local level have evolved and changed. Whilst there is a much strong suite of partnerships, they are also partially competitive with each other and lack an overall objective. Thus in two tier county areas – there is an expectation that the collaboration is a given with out the recognition of the sum total of reductions in a given area. This means, in effect, that we have less of Total Place approach but rather the endurance for a Total Burden in a given place.
The shadow of Total Place has been less the sum of impacts for a given £1 of spending, but rather a series of partnerships which attempt to claim 10p in every £1.
Against the backdrop of changes in both the structure of the economy (automation) and the way it is integrated with the global economy (due to Brexit) meeting the challenge of government strategies around the industrial strategy, the reform of social care and the general improvement of services in a given area requires a more substantive view, starting from a thorough appreciation of the impact of spending in a given area.
In effect its time to update Total Place.