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Total place and the budget report - by Ruth Jackson

by Ruth Jackson — last modified Mar 26, 2010 03:52 PM

I spent a very boring yesterday afternoon reading the budget report. I’m sure that accountants and economists find such things stimulating; however, being neither, I do not.

I have to say, having read it, the top headline is it’s a painful time for pretty much everyone.  And there seems to be a lot of robbing Peter to pay Paul (or the other way around).   These come in the guise of efficiency and value for money.  I’m sure there probably are some genuine efficiency and value for money savings out there (such as reducing spending on consultants by central government), but some of them are definitely phoney (such as the shared central government back office contact centre thingy – or whatever it’s called – presumably so designed just to drive anyone wanting to phone the civil service completely mad).  Apparently it’s all called ‘Smarter Government’.  Seems a bit like an oxymoron.   

And at a time when everyone is feeling miserable – they go and increase duty on alcohol – so we can’t even drown our sorrows in a glass of wine (or two).  I know, I know, the health benefits blah, blah, blah.  But what the government has failed to realise is that people are drinking to try and be happier.  If they did other things that made us happier, we’d drink less.  Such as enabling people to have more say and ownership over their lives and their neighbourhoods.  I think just about everyone is fed up of nanny state-ism.  And yes, I’m well aware that drink doesn’t make you happier – but it does for a little while anyway.  And what you know and what you feel can be two entirely different things. 

But I stray from the point.  I think possibly the only good news is for first time buyers – if there are any. 

 But squirreled away on page 98 (of several hundred pages) is a box about Total Place.  We’ve all been hearing about Total Place for a while now, but to be honest, I’m not really sure how many people have actually got their heads around it.  In a bid to try and help my poor head, I went to an IDeA conference on Total Place for the third sector on Tuesday.  To be honest, most of what was said didn’t directly relate to anything we were doing, but I did come away feeling like I understood it better and where possibly PB might fit in. 

All the speakers there were anxious that we know that Total Place isn’t just about efficiency savings.  In fact, it’s supposedly primarily about giving people a say over their local areas and tailoring services to local needs.  Which is funny, as that’s exactly what we’ve been saying for years.  But at least we’re all on the same page.  Key to that is involving people.  And this is where I think PB comes in.  It’s a very good tool for involving people and giving them a direct say over what happens in their local area and enables services to be targeted more effectively.  PB can help facilitate the main aim of Total Place. 

If we go back to that box on page 98, then we’ll also see that although Total Place is about identifying duplication and being more efficient (and hence saving money) – central government doesn’t intend to take all the money that’s saved through Total Place back.  Which is a good thing – if they do what they say.  And some of that money that’s not clawed back can be reallocated locally as determined by citizen priorities through PB!  Plus with all that information about budgets and what’s being spent in the area flying around, we can throw in some citizen budget literacy at the same time.

See, a nice neat circle, where PB ties Total Place up with a bow.  Of course, in reality, it’s unlikely to work quite like that.  But, we can promote the idea and encourage areas to give it a go. 

So yes, it’s a difficult time.  We all knew that it would be.  It will be painful.  There might even be more drinking, despite the extra duty (except for the poor Cornish farmers who now can’t afford their own cider).  But, the best way to get through it is to involve everyone, share responsibility and ownership, build trust and accountability – all of which is what PB does very well.  We might even have some empirical evidence to start proving it soon! 

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