George Osborne's "Devolution Revolution" is now unquestionably the main driver of public service reform.
The 2015 spending review was both ruthless and generous depending on who you are. George Osborne declared that it was all a simple question of priorities. He has made no secret that one of his priorities is to devolve responsibility for the delivery (and increasingly the funding) of local services to local areas. The traditionally solemn spending review document even risks the racy sub-title "A devolution revolution". They must be very excited about this in the Treasury - and well they should be.
With measures like the increased ability for local areas to set and retain the revenue from business rates as well as the ability to raise additional funding from council tax for adult social care, this spending review is creating huge incentives for others to follow Greater Manchester, Sheffield, the North East and Tees Valley and agree devolution deals.
People may shrug and assume that this is all hot air from politicians - but this is not a paper exercise that can easily be unpicked at some point in the future. The flexibility that local areas will have to prioritise and deliver services will change the uniform nature of public services forever. Take the integration of health and social care for example. This is a big focus area for devolution deals and the spending review document is quite clear that as well as devolving huge budgets to local areas it is also leaving it up to those areas to decide what they do.
"The government will not impose how the NHS and local government deliver [integration]. The ways local areas integrate will be different."
However, the government is not shying away from setting deadlines. The Better Care Fund (launched in 2013) allowed health and social care services to be commissioned together for the first time. This funding will continue but the pressure is now on local areas to accelerate their plans and have them fully implemented by 2020.
It's not just the opportunity to join up adjacent services like health and social care which is attractive but also the opportunity to integrate services across a wider geographical area. Children's services is key area where this could lead to improvements. This has already happened in a number of areas like Kingston and Richmond where the councils combined their services in a single new organisation, Achieving for Children. There is already talk of children's services in Greater Manchester joining up.
Setting up a new delivery model that is owned by the key stakeholders is a great way to integrate services whilst still maintaining robust governance and accountability. The bureaucratic slate can be wiped clean and the service can be refocused on what service users need and what works.
Local leaders should grab this opportunity with both hands and take advantage of the chance to used pooled budgets to properly join-up services so they make more sense to the wider public. For their part, the Government certainly don't seem to be putting any false restrictions on ambition.Suggest a correction