Friday, 1 April 2016

April 1st 2016

Not since the heady days of early new Labour has there been so much interest in ‘joined up government’. I was enjoying being a member of the Government’s ‘Joining it Up Locally’ Policy Action Team, that was sponsored by the Social Exclusion Unit on the Cabinet Office, which fed into the Government’s National Strategy for Neighbourhood Renewal, and Modernising Local Government programme. The product of all this enthusiasm and energy was a range of powerful joining up mechanisms…the Local Strategic Partnership, Sustainable Communities Strategies, spatial planning, placemaking, placeshaping, Total Place, Total Capital, (…and more, much more.)

Talking to a civil service acquaintance yesterday, I learnt that today marks the launch of a unique Whitehall initiative to join up a raft of policies relating to welfare and housing. Making use of funding streams available to councils through s.23 Local Government Act 2003, and the various Community Rights Regulations (relating to Chapter 3 of Part 5 of the Localism Act 2011), parish councils and other qualifying community led organisations in England and Wales will be able to take local action to ensure that people out of work can be provided with work and a home.

I tracked down a spokesman from the new cross departmental team, WorkHouse, who told me, “For too long, it has been a stain on the government’s record of fairness that there has not been any coordinated action in this area of public policy. We need to ensure that people without work should not be prevented from re-entering the labour market as a consequence of unfairly occupying or underusing a publicly provided home. We will ensure that parish councils and other well-meaning community organisations have the resources to provide new forms of very basic accommodation, access to healthy meals, linked to a requirement to work.”

Information about the employment aspects of the initiative, already known colloquially amongst ministers, I understand, as the WorkForce programme, shows that the value of the accommodation and food will be the equivalent to the Living Wage, so the new programme will be cost neutral to the taxpayer.

Initial capital and revenue funding will be available via the Local Government Act 2003, which provides a general power for Whitehall departments to directly fund councils for any activity not covered by other legislation. The Community Rights Regulations allows property to be designated as Assets of Community Value, and requires property owners to consider bids from community groups before selling on the open market. It also contains a measure that requires local authorities to exercise their powers of compulsory purchase where the local community benefit is aligned with national policy priorities. “We expect communities to want to take advantage of this new initiative, especially through the take up of neighbourhood plans, to create what we are calling ‘work-houses’, to ensure that their community becomes more self-sufficient, resilient and sustainable. Community Right to Build Orders will be ideal to create this new form of housing for the 10% or so of local populations not making their fair contribution to society.”

A Treasury contact confirmed that “the Chancellor sees this an important measure to improve national productivity.”  Joined up government at last…phew!