Last week, Communities Minister Don Foster announced £4.3m of new financial support for the Neighbourhood Community Budget Pilot programme. Now called ‘Our Place!’, the programme will expand the existing Neighbourhood pilots to enable around 100 communities to develop their own projects to give local people more control over their own local services. This also sits alongside a further £3500,000 support for the existing pilots, enabling them to accelerate and implement their programmes.
The announcement of this funding is great news for local government. As we argued in our evidence to the Parliamentary Select Committee, we have seen real results from the Neighbourhood Community Budget pilots. Now is the time for councils to get on and push forward with this way of working to support communities to take more local control. Although this will be a relatively small amount of money for each area, it will really help in providing the vital resources that are needed to get these programmes going. The benefits of getting this approach right should be huge, both across local government and most importantly, for communities themselves.
As we found through our work with One Norbiton in Kingston, this approach to the design and delivery of local services provides a real opportunity to transform services, focus on outcomes, commission differently, involve communities and work in a much more integrated way across the public sector. The pilot in Kingston was remarkably successful in achieving engagement with the community, identifying community priorities and themes for the area and in enhancing community influence over how to achieve important outcomes locally. Additionally, it provided real focus on areas where the council and partners could pool and align budgets in order to make savings and deliver better outcomes.
But local government can’t do this alone, and to make Our Place! successful, we need commitment from Whitehall that all key departments, beyond DCLG, will engage in the programmes. As things stand, departmental silos will stand in the way of pooling and aligning budgets. We also need assurance that councils will be granted greater freedoms and flexibilities to innovate and experiment with designing and delivering services in a different way; to allow for things like reinvestment of savings made back into preventative services. Without this, there is a risk that Our Place won’t deliver the outcomes that communities are striving for.