Reorganisation of local government is in vogue. As I write this article, there are plans and reorganisation activity in Buckinghamshire, Northamptonshire and Oxfordshire, to name but a few, and the launch of a new unitary council in Dorset earlier this month. In fact, LGCs Reorganisation Map shows discussions regarding reorganisation (of varying degrees of detail) have taken place at over half of the two-tier counties in England (14 out of 27). These are, however, broadly limited to the notion of unitarization – that is, replacing the existing two-tier structure of local government. Furthermore, in October 2018, the LGC published survey results suggesting over half of senior officers within the sector expect reorganisation of local government within five years.
But why can’t this go much further? We at Human Engine seek to offer an innovative alternative to the structural future of local government and local public services. Such a structural change does not simply mean reorganisation of the sector but a fundamental shift in its business model and how current local government services are delivered. This thinking has been built on trends across the public sector and the role of local government to provide for its local community, as well as contribute towards national priorities, including health, social care and housing.
The Tripartite Model
We put forward a model that delivers local public services via three elements: Children’s Services via a Children’s Trust, hypothecated funding for and integration of Health and Social Care via Integrated Care Systems and Place Based Services via unitary local government. A key driver for this thinking has been current initiatives in public policy. Improvements have been seen at Children’s Trust of previously ‘inadequate’ Ofsted rated local authorities. Doncaster children’s services received a ‘good’ rating after transferring to a trust in 2014, whilst Worcestershire are expanding the reach of their children’s services company, Worcestershire Children First, to deliver education services.
Integrated Care System pilots are taking place across the country and has been a long tern ambition for the UK, spanning many governments. Facilitating ICS programmes to encourage integration can pave the way for a future whereby social care is not delivered by local authorities. The policy landscape is also opening up the possibilities of fast-tracking integrated care. The notion of hypothecated funding for Health and Social Care has gathered tractionand the benefits of this will be discussed in future articles. In addition to this, as part of the cabinet reshuffle in January 2018, the Department for Health was renamed the Department for Health and Social Care, removing the responsibility for social care from MHCLG. This small change could spawn a significant policy initiative.
Furthermore, this business model of local public service delivery is based on the premise that people services are based on service user needs which can be grouped into ‘communities of interest’ or ‘communities of need’ but not ‘communities of geography’. Whilst local conditions could impact on the delivery of people services (demographics, accessibility or the local market), these variables are not political in nature and therefore are unlikely to be resolved differently in a politicised environment.
However, the specificity of place-based services is likely to be diverse across the country. Obvious policy areas for this includes planning, public transport and waste collection. There are regular news and industry press articles relating to council decisions that are only possible due to the locality, community involvement or local economy drivers, for example; housing projects to reach local targets, specific planning restrictions in areas such as National Parks or cities and the closure of libraries or other public spaces. The argument for unitarization is about economies of scale and economies of flow. There are clearly natural synergies between waste collection and disposal that make it absolutely sensible to have this delivered by one local authority.
Many place-based services are universal services – waste, roads and green spaces – they are used by every resident and residents are unable to choose who delivers these services – the only choice is their council (and associated delivery partners). As these services are universal, they can be considered as the ‘vote winners’ at local elections – the wider electorate notice poorly delivered universal services, such as potholes, issues with waste collection and housing concerns.
Condensing local government to the deliverer of place-based services by removing people services, the sector can depoliticise services for vulnerable people and in so doing reduce the risk of the ‘post code lottery’ for these services.
Whilst we put forward this thinking, Human Engine is neither an advocate nor an opponent of such a model – we simply hope to facilitate debate. There are benefits and dis-benefits to this approach which have been and continue to be discussed is policy circles and industry press. Drop us a comment with your thoughts.