Tri-borough councils set to improve lives with Community Budgets pilot

The announcement of a new Community Budget pilot for the tri-Borough area of Westminster, Hammersmith & Fulham and Kensington and Chelsea has moved plans forward to revolutionise the way government works in improving people’s lives.

The Tri-borough programme to share services between the councils is already paving the way in public sector innovation and the announcement on the 21st of December by the Department for Communities and Local Government may potentially allow the councils and partners to bring about a further step change under a new Whole-Place Community Budget scheme.

Under the pilot, the three councils and partners will explore options to use public money better between the town hall, Whitehall and the Greater London Authority, which will mean greater efficiency and less duplication of funding between different tiers of government and agencies. The plan will also involve harnessing the passion of the voluntary sector and unlocking the vast potential of businesses to promote growth, reward ambition and reduce dependency.

In being awarded the prestigious Community Budget pilot Westminster, Hammersmith & Fulham and Kensington and Chelsea councils put forward a clear statement of ambition referred to as the `Tri-Government Guarantee’, setting out targets for what could be achieved through better working across three tiers of government. Some of these targets include:

  • Working together to ensure that every young person under 25 has a job or is in training or education,
  • A commitment to achieve educational excellence where 80 per cent of children across the three boroughs achieve five A*- C grade GCSEs including maths and English,
  • An assurance that people in the `squeezed middle’ (with a combined household income below £60k) have access to high-quality affordable housing.

The pilot will involve radically redesigning services and aligning funding in a number of key areas over the next 12 months, with a view to possibly implementing the changes from December 2012 onwards. The key service areas will include: skills and training for over 16s, education, worklessness, speeding up family court proceedings, youth violence and anti-social behaviour.

The three councils have already demonstrated their ability to promote growth among businesses and reduce dependence on the state with a number of existing projects. These include:

  • Hub Westminster, London’s largest start-up incubation lab for businesses providing premises for 1000 entrepreneurs, social enterprises and start-ups. Importantly, the programme was only realised through a detailed co-design process involving the council, social business and private sector investors.
  • H&F’s JCP OnePlace initiative which placed council officers, including housing benefit advisers, in the job centre alongside other key debt and skills training advisers. The project achieved outstanding results, with 332 residents securing jobs because of OnePlace’s early intervention. In October 2011, the Department for Work and Pensions Universal Credit team named H&F the number one local authority for innovatively tackling worklessness and poverty, having visited 100 local authorities and shortlisted ten.
  • Westminster’s Family Recovery Programme also acted as a forerunner to the first round of Community Budget pilots by integrating a number of different agencies and social services to form a bespoke team around problem families to tackle the multiple challenges they might be facing – including domestic violence, serious youth violence and antisocial behaviour, worklessness and poor school attainment.
  • In Kensington and Chelsea, the Royal Borough’s long history of successful working with business, health, education, voluntary and housing sectors has delivered more than 70 apprenticeships and has attracted more than £2.5m in external funding to support projects such as youth services and an Open Age Centre delivering health and social care.

All three authorities have also made impressive achievements on their cross-cutting work and skills agendas. Westminster Works has involved over 3000 residents and led to over 550 long-term jobs over a two-year period, while H&F’s Workzone has brokered jobs for 361 job seekers this calendar year and is now the leading London National Skills Academy (Retail) provider of small business master classes. Kensington and Cheslea also has a well developed Worklessness Network delivering a wide range of employment initiatives, including pre-employment programmes, support for the over 50s, careers fairs and work and enterprise clubs.

Commenting on the announcement, Communities Secretary Eric Pickles said: “We need to end the `silo control’ and start a local service revolution that puts people at the heart of spending decisions and saves the money needed to pay off the deficit.

“[The three west London boroughs] are one of four `pool to save’ pioneers that can bring about truly local services that knock out bureaucratic processes everywhere and upend Whitehall’s monopoly over public money that’s hemmed in frontline workers for decades.”

Cllr Colin Barrow, Leader of Westminster City Council, added:”This is about budgeting for real life and we welcome this new common-sense approach to funding which enables us to further promote growth and reduce dependency across the three boroughs. Our current projects including the Family Recovery Programme and Hub Westminster have already demonstrated our innovation, but the realigning of funding under Community Budgets gives us the potential to do so much more.”

Leader of the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, Cllr Sir Merrick Cockell, said: “This is an opportunity for the Government, councils and other local services to break the mould so that public money can deliver better value, better results and better lives for local people. The Royal Borough has set the benchmark for successful budgeting and innovative service delivery for many years. Extending that success across a wider area of public spending has to be a good thing – both for local communities and for the taxpayer.”