This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government
Speech by Communities Secretary Eric Pickles to the National Community Budgets Conference.
Today I don’t want to talk about the ins and outs of community budgets, or the finer points of cost benefit analysis. I want to talk about their impact on people’s lives.
I want to talk about why it’s a scandal that agencies in Doncaster, faced with more than 100 events involving children, failed to co-ordinate any realistic attempt to prevent what happened in the Edlington case.
I want to talk about why so few children are getting their teeth checked in parts of Newcastle, that more and more are ending up having emergency treatment.
I want to talk about why in West Cheshire 1 woman faced 30 incidents of domestic abuse before feeling able to turn to an agency that might help her.
And I want to talk about my own area, Essex, and why some people still feel able to let a young father from that neck of the woods get caught up in a Kafkaesque nightmare - “Meeting upon meeting with different organisations” - just to get a bit of support.
I know that these are the types of service failure that the pilots themselves are addressing. Because if these initiatives were just about money, we’d rightly be accused of a lack of ambition.
After all, we’re all having to live with less. And, given the waste, given the inefficiency, given the duplication that went on before, the purpose of this is to use less to deliver a better service.
But I wasn’t just looking for these pilots to just patch things up. To mend and make do. To think about ‘service improvement’.
People at the centre of the system
I wanted them to put people at the heart of the system and get to the root cause of entrenched problems. Even if that means throwing away the rule book and starting again.
And I’m glad to see that is what has been happening. The tri-borough initiative - part of the Whole-Place pilots - is proposing to reduce unplanned admissions to hospital. Putting the donkey work into helping older people with longer term conditions before they get to an acute stage.
We’ve got the greater Manchester pilot working with parents of children at risk so they don’t pass on the bad habits likely to hold kids back for the rest of their lives. The idea to ensure kids get a fresh start and can stand at the school gates on their first day ready with great excitement to learn.
And we’ve got pioneers in West Cheshire making sure families with complex needs now have an advocate who’s going to stick with them through thick and thin. Instead of an average of 68 separate interventions per family at a staggering cost to the taxpayer of up to £92,000.
Our pilots have discovered that if you simply follow the money you’ll usually find different cash flowing through different pipes to different agencies with different targets. But we’ve worked out, if you get people together in a room - if you focus on the elderly and the vulnerable, the troubled families, the re-offenders, the long-term unemployed and all those with dependencies - you can usually start taking dependence out the system. You can actually begin to help people recover their sense of self-worth so they can lead independent lives.
That’s why we’re going to keep working with these 4 areas to make sure our plans really are do-able.
And it’s why we’re going to help other areas to learn from their experience. We know our colleagues across government are up to it.
In fact, the way we’ve managed to bridge the old Whitehall, local government, voluntary sector fault lines has been one of the great success stories.
Earlier on today we heard Norman Lamb speak about the pilot’s positive approach to health and social care integration. And we’re working with the Treasury, Work and Pensions, Education, Home Office and the Ministry of Justice to ensure we’re all on the same page.
Neighbourhoods on track
We also know, as we’ve heard today, that our neighbourhood community budgets are on the right track.
From Ilfracombe to Haverhill they’re making sure their communities are involved in making the most of their resources.
Critically, local folk are backing them. 89% of people surveyed in Poplar felt citizens should ‘do their bit’. While more than half wanted to be involved in turning their neighbourhood around.
And now we’re seeing community budgets turning their irrepressible energy, their boundless enthusiasm, to that eternal question of reducing waste.
Ilfracombe, for example, knows that nationally an estimated £300 million per year of NHS money is wasted through over prescription of medication. Imagine all those pills and potions sitting in the cupboard never being taken away. So Ilfracombe is tracking down that waste with the help of its local people to stop the rot.
Because what’s driving Ilfracombe, what’s driving us all is the priceless prize for getting this right.
Not just savings of millions of pounds, but hearing from the young girl of the father in Essex I mentioned earlier talking about how she’s been; “changed… around”.
Hearing from the man who’d fallen on hard times describe how, by becoming a mentor, he now has; “something to get up for to make him feel better about himself that he is helping others”.
So it is more than money. It is the prize. And the prize relates to people. There’s a real opportunity here.
They said it was brave, fool hardly, silly even, to try this. They said it was bound to fail.
But I’ve been really impressed with how all the different organisations have risen to the challenge. We’ve always known these problems existed. Now we have the chance to do something about it.
And what fires you up and me up and Bob up is not the cost benefit analysis. It is the fact we can make a difference to people’s lives.
This is a noble cause.
And it is not just a case of government knows best. People must understand they too have a sense of ownership.
So don’t lose that fire in your belly. Be innovative, be bold.
You and I can make a difference. And together you and I will set us on course to make a difference for generations to come.