Cuts could enhance joint working

Ravi Chandiramani
Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The party conference season is over and national politics is destined for a surreal few months in the run-up to the general election. Expect plenty more short-term children's policy announcements - some even eye- catching - as the main parties try to outmanoeuvre each other to strike a popular chord. Politics in Westminster will become increasingly sensationalised and polarised.

Meanwhile, at local level, councils and children's trusts are grappling with the realities of recession. Budget cuts of up to 35 per cent are said to be on the horizon in some areas.

And yet, in these tough times, there is an opportunity to find collective strength through adversity. The quest to overcome inefficiencies, remove duplication and cut costs might, in fact, accelerate and entrench joint working arrangements and the Every Child Matters enterprise on the ground.

Services could become truly based on themes and issues instead of providers, resulting in pooled budgets and closer co-operation.

This is certainly the aim of Total Place, an initiative piloted by 13 councils, each focusing on a particular area and soon to release interim findings. Driven by the recession, the authorities are trying to pinpoint how public agencies can work together better to deliver frontline services more efficiently and effectively. Croydon, for instance, is focusing on children's health and wellbeing in the early years and Birmingham on outcomes for care leavers.

Party politics is largely incidental here. While Labour engineered Every Child Matters, most councils trying to carry it out are Conservative-led. Moreover, Total Place chimes with the Tories' desire to devolve more decisions to councils. Of course, there will be differences of approach between parties. But, whatever the election results in Westminster, at local level value for money and co-operation will be the name of the game for years to come.

Strong choice for commissioner

The appointment of Maggie Atkinson as England's next children's commissioner, first revealed by, is a sound choice. As a president of the Association of Directors of Children's Services, she has been a critical friend and, where necessary, a thorn in the side of policy makers in championing children's issues. She is a strong media performer and has something of the common touch.

But her skills could be put to the test in convincing a cost-conscious new government - and the sector at large - of the role's importance.

Ravi Chandiramani, editor, Children & Young People Now

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