Public sector finances are under severe strain. Local authorities have faced increasingly tight budgets over the last six years, and the localisation of business rates, the phasing out of central government grants and the implications of Brexit, signal continued uncertainties to come – even with a potential ‘reset’ on the current path of austerity being hinted by Philip Hammond.
With efficiencies and innovation desperately sought in our public services, devolution could offer some of the answers. Opportunities for greater integration, pooled budgeting and investment in prevention beckon. See for example, Greater Manchester Combined Authority’s place-based commissioning plans, although Devo-Manc is something of an outlier in terms of the level of powers and resources which their devolution settlement has provided at this stage.
There is a clear opportunity for devolution to harness the capacity and ideas of local people and organisations to transform public services. Locality’s Keep it Local campaign has been calling for locally commissioned and delivered public services which are built around the needs of people and communities – and devolution has the potential to achieve this. Delivery led by local organisations enables improved opportunity for co-design and partnerships between statutory delivery bodies, community organisations and service users, and can also lead to more cost-effective solutions and help to focus resources on early intervention.
But is the devolution agenda so far missing this transformational potential? Community and civil society organisations are essential partners for unlocking public service reform – but to date, engagement of the VCS in the development and implementation of devolution deals has been extremely patchy. Working with local organisations around public service re-design not only delivers better outcomes for service users, but can also be an important route for ensuring added social value and strengthening local economies.
This week’s Devolution Summit is an important opportunity for us to think about some of these issues and solutions as a sector. There is huge capacity, innovation and ideas in our sector – we need to make sure that devolution harnesses this and has the means and mechanisms in place to do so.
Earlier this year, Locality and NAVCA wrote a report on what ‘good’ devolution should look like, and the principles that are essential for making this happen – Devolution for people and communities.
Tony Armstrong is CEO of Locality. Locality is working in partnership with CFG, Children England and NAVCA to host the Devolution and the Voluntary Sector Summit on 7th September.