Watts Sector

Tory minister backs Total Place

A report from the Local Government Association (LGA), promoting the idea of place-based funding for Local Authorities, has won the support of Communities Secretary Eric Pickles.

According to the report place-based budgets, published in July, Local Authorities should be allocated a pool of money from which to deliver funding for a wide range of services. The LGA believes that up to £4.5 billion a year could be saved by dismantling many of the existing Local Authority regulatory procedures. This new approach could, “strip out the plethora of funding streams, accountability regimes, ring-fenced budgets, quangos and funding bodies, which cost billions of pounds,” says the LGA.

The report was published at an LGA conference held in Bournemouth on 6 July, at which Communities Secretary Eric Pickles backed the Labour Government’s Total Place initiative which promoted the idea of public agencies sharing services such as property.

Conference chair, Dame Margaret Eaton said, “The Government has made it clear there are going to be deep cuts in public spending. But if we simply cut departments and organisations as they are currently configured, we will do nothing to cut waste and instead hurt the frontline more than we need to... we are proposing a radically different way of doing things that will save up to £100 billion over five years and help protect vital frontline public services from painful and damaging cuts.

Total Place was launched in 2009 as a way to encourage local agencies to work together, pooling knowledge and resources to benefit local people and their communities and promote increased ‘public value’ from services. The idea behind the initiative is a simple one. Public bodies get together to look at all the services provided in their local area and work out how to give their customers a better service. In practical terms this means increasing efficiency by sharing resources and cutting out replication of services across different departments and organisations.

From the property perspective the same principle applies. Asset Management is a key strand of Total Place with the aim being to increase efficient use of space, gain best value from existing premises, identify the hidden potential of unused assets and dispose of unwanted or unused property to free up funds for further investment.

At present there is massive duplication across public bodies, even in relatively straightforward areas such as property data collection. For example, each local agency will commission condition surveys of their own property portfolio – as well as the fire insurance valuation, energy performance assessments and access, and asbestos surveys that are required by law – from a different provider using a different reporting system. How much simpler and more cost effective to pool resources and survey the whole local public portfolio as a single project? The potential for savings, just in this area of asset management, is huge. Add to this the prospect of developing carefully constructed and well coordinated planned preventative maintenance programmes and the cost of repairs and refurbishment schemes could be dramatically reduced. Add environmental management to the equation, and councils and other public bodies could meet their sustainability targets more efficiently and cost effectively than has been the case to-date.

From the construction perspective, once agencies are genuinely working together – and the public sector already has an excellent record in collaboration between different agencies and the public – there are also opportunities to increase buying power, tighten up procurement practices across the board and deliver projects using the same set of KPIs to monitor and promote improvements in efficient delivery.

However, there are a number of barriers to success and Chief of Estates Directors will need to find answers to these questions:

  • How can multiple agencies overcome their own specific procurement routes and procedures to implement their plans?
  • What type of vehicle will need to be set up to unite the multiple agencies, for example a SPV similar to that on a PFU scheme?
  • How will cost/liabilities be shared across the group?
  • How will different space requirements for different agencies be managed when some occupy at one person for 10m², whereas some are much higher and some lower?
  • How will cultural/organisational issues be overcome in order to enable space to be shared?

In today’s challenging climate, where efficiency, economy and value for money are critical, Local Authority Estates Directors are under pressure to rethink asset management strategies. By taking a fresh look at the way buildings are used and tying this into other aspects of management such as flexible working and environmental policy, there is potential for enormous savings and resource efficiencies to be made.

For more information go to www.lga.gov.uk

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