Q 106John Howell: I do not think that I have quite got the answer about the additionality issue that I am seeking, regarding your own view about what you will be doing differently as a result of the Bill. You say that there might be a different type of commissioning, but is there anything else there? After all, local government already has a generalised indicator and a whole lot of sub-indicators that it can work to. I am just trying to grasp how you see the landscape differing, at a practical level, after the Bill is passed.
Neera Sharma: Some of the differences would be in the softer outcomes. So, most of the families that we work with are not employed and there has been intergenerational poverty. So we would want to look at the soft skills that people need before they reach the labour market. For example, more volunteering opportunities would be useful, so we would seek to work with our local partners on providing those opportunities, or signposting people, if they have mental health problems or other issues, so that they build up those pre-employment skills. Then, we would work in greater partnership to look at how we could help people to access the right sort of child care or to move into employment. Bringing lots of partners to the table will help to do that at a local level. As local authorities formulate their sustainable community strategies, it will especially give partners a greater say in what needs to happen locally for children and families.
Kate Green: I hope that we might be able to find it easier to have a dialogue with local government to help shape local service design. There is already a real appetite for that among some local authorities. Only this morning, I was invited to Be Birmingham, the Birmingham city council local strategic partnership, specifically because it was holding an event about putting together its child poverty strategy. There is an opportunity for real engagement and dialogue between organisations such as ours and the chance to talk about our intellectual understanding of policy issues and the experience thatnot, I must say, the Child Poverty Action Groupthe other organisations represented here gain from delivering local services and the interest that local authorities have with their partners in thinking about the whole landscape of service provision and how it might impact on poor families.
For the Child Poverty Action Group, the issue is likely to be about influencing local government and its partners to think about a broad range of activities in the local authority and how they can be shaped, designed and delivered, and about explaining and working with it to identify the impact on families and children in poverty in the local area and help it to think about ways in which it can reconfigure and offer services in a more accessible way.
An example of that policy might be to encourage local take-up campaigns. I can envisage our providing an analysis of why take-up might be low in a particular community or area, and what can be done to drive it up. We have already worked with the Local Government Association to reproduce the Quids for Kids toolkit, which comprises take-up materials for local authorities. There would be quite a lot of interest on both sides in sharing good practice and expertise.
Q 107John Howell: What, given your experience so far of having worked with local government, do you think it needs by way of additional resources to make the policy work?
Kate Green: Not all local authorities have shown the need for additional resources to make the policy work, although additional spending on low-income families will be good both for those families and the local economy, because if there is more money in the household budgets of poorer families, they immediately spend it on local businesses. It is also true that some local authorities have already begun to look at the way in which they make spending choices within their existing funding arrangements. A good example of that is Kent, which has made some quite deliberate choices to fund the provision of free school transport, for example. Presumably, it has had to make choices not to offer another public service provision, but it is a matter of balance between the need for leadership and sufficient resources at local level. Furthermore, the process is one of local strategy development with local people in which they are making informed and deliberate choices.
Kate Bell: The process of setting out a child poverty strategy will lead to less duplication of work at a local authority level. Parents often ask us why five different people are telling them about employment and skills policy, and we hope that the provision of the strategy might help them to say that their resources into advice provision and take-up are going here, and their resources into employment skills are looking across the partner authorities as well, where action can be done more efficiently to achieve the goal of ending child poverty.
Fergus Drake: We, in Save the Children, are particularly interested in being a bridge with regard to the voice of children, especially in local child poverty strategies and needs assessment work. We have looked at whether it would be useful to have some form of kite mark, which says that we believe that a particular needs assessment has actually gone down on the ground and that we have listened specifically to children, thus involving them at every point as each strategy is worked on. That area is something to which all the organisations represented here could add tangible skills as well as the resource matter that we have just talked about.
Q 108Ms Buck: You have been quite upbeat about the benefits of decentralising some responsibility to local government, and I am sure that there are some grounds for that and that more good practice can be encouraged. But can I push you further on the flipside of that? There is a risk, particularly in a much larger country than the Nordic countries, with a much more decentralised press, with much less scrutiny and political pressure on individual local authorities, that some authoritiesI would probably say manywill find ways of possibly not taking some decisions that are hard to
Kate Bell: At the risk of being upbeat again, the advantage of having strategies is that you can at least try to progress against them. It is also really important that we have a national strategy. One of the things that a national strategy may want to do is to pick out local areas that are doing particularly badly. I think the point that Kate was making earlier around authorities therefore being quite keen not to be seen as falling behind is something that the national strategy can also help push.
Neera Sharma: Local authorities will need resources and support, also sharing of good practicelocal authorities that are doing well could partner up with local authorities that are not doing well to share learning and experience and to have mentoring schemes. So, there is a possibility of being quite imaginative as to how local authorities get support and the knowledge that they feel they might need.
Q 109Ms Buck: You mentioned some good practice, and you are all meant to be doing some work with local authorities. Tell me where there isnt good practice. Are there any authorities that are not really stepping up to the plate and not showing a great deal of interest, or is every local authority in Britain engaging in this?
Kate Bell: We do not have the resources to look at every local authority in Britain. One of the reasons for being a small charity and lobbying at national level is to put in place the framework so that those who are working at a local level can challenge things. I think that that is the other really important thing about the child poverty strategiesempowering groups, which are working on a smaller level and do not have access to national lobbying, hopefully to be able to say, Heres a strategy, heres what you are not doing.
Kate Green: In England the Government offices have an unfortunate role in terms of using the national indicator set proactively to maintain pressure on the local authorities in their area. The other thing that I would say is that we have observed a real step change in local authority interest over the past two or three years. I think that three or four years ago the extent to which local government was engaging, in the sense that it could do anything about child poverty at all, was very patchy. I think that has changed significantly, I am sure in part because of the debate that has been going on around this legislation.
Q 110Julie Morgan: I want to ask about the devolved countries and how you think they would fit into this UK-wide strategy. Obviously Wales is going to have its own new poverty strategy this year or next yearhow do you think that will fit into the overall UK strategy?
Neera Sharma: We think the proposals in the Bill for the devolved Governments to formulate their strategies to fit into a UK strategy are right. We are hoping that
Julie Morgan: Obviously some of the policies in Wales and Scotland, such as free prescriptions or free breakfasts for children, have an impact on poverty. Some of those initiatives are, say, not available in England, so there will have to be different measures than for a UK-wide strategy.
Q 111Mr. Stuart: How should incentives be altered for those in local authorities such as chief executives and others? All Governments talk about not rewarding failure and rewarding success, but the tendency is towards precisely the opposite. You inevitably get drawn in, such as when Liverpool was failing in the 1980s, with Governments giving the authorities money because they cannot let people sit with failure. The real incentives for success are rarely there for those on the ground, so the rich areas get less and the poorer areas get more. The poorer the area, the more money it gets. Do you have any thoughts on incentives and how we should align them so as to ensure that we get positive feedback all the way through, and do not suffer perverse eddies in the incentive structure?
Kate Green: I am not a great expert on this, but I make two points. First, I observe a strong commitment to public service across local government, and to the drivers that people feel to deliver high-quality services in their local communityyou want to build on the positive there. Secondly, although I understand your point that rich areas never get the money and that it always goes to poor areas that are failingthe reward for failurewe need money to reach the families and communities that are failing the most.
The real problem with saying, If you succeed, we will give you a bit more money to do more, is not that we do not want to reward success but that we do not want to punish individual families when there has been a failure to meet standards and targets. It seems to me all the more important that funding reaches those most disadvantaged communities. It is not reasonable that individuals should bear the pain for administrative failure. You can see that, for example, when housing standards are not met and extra funding is then not available for further refurbishment of social housing estates. That is extremely hard on the people who have to live in that housing, and it is no fault of theirs that they are in that situation.
Q 112Mr. Stuart: You make the extremely good point that Governments of all colours always act in the way that you say, despite the pronouncements that they make. How can we cut through that to ensure that the most positive incentives are put in place? Successive Governments have wanted to challenge poverty and underachievement, and have put in place resources towards that end, but in many places we have not seen the response that we would have liked.
Kate Green: I think that you are taking me out of my depth. In terms of how you incentivise public servants, you are probably going some way beyond the remit of any of our organisations.
Q 113Mr. Stuart: Is it possible that the Bill could end up having perverse effects? Is there a way in which local authorities and local government could go for short-term measures? For instance, as has been mentioned, the IFS says how much can be spent on benefits, yet the Centre for Social Justice has reported on the disincentives in the system. The Minister spoke this morning of her belief that there had been improvements, which would obviously be welcome, but are there dangers that we need to watch out for? Are there changes that could be made to the Bill to ensure that we do not allow the short-term political desire of meeting the target to go against the long-term desire of creating opportunity for all and the other broad policy changes that are needed?
Kate Green: That is a very important point, and it has been important since we first had child poverty targets and interim targets were set. It is really key, therefore, that the strategies that are produced, and the commissions examination of those strategiesand the bite that the commission hasare strong as a result of the Bill. When the commission reports, we will want it to say not only, This looks like it will make a bit of a difference this year, but, Is this helping to drive towards the 2020 goal?
Neera Sharma: I think that the sustainability of any success is absolutely key. Both on the income targets and on the building blocks, the way in which the strategies are delivered and how this is all implemented must be sustainable. As Kate says, the commission would hopefully have a key role to play there.
Q 114Mr. Stuart: Could we end up with many people just above the artificial 60 per cent. figurewith them being pushed over that figure to meet a target? Is that a realistic danger?
Kate Bell: The suite of targetsnot just the 60 per cent. relative income targetdoes, to a certain extent, try to avoid that. You have the material deprivation targets in there, which look at poverty in a much more experiential way. Also, you have the persistent poverty target. Looking at those is at least trying to get beyond that problem. I also think that the fact that the strategy is three years, whereas the reporting is annual, gives you a longer-term horizon as well as that short term. That is progress being made. I think that that interaction is quite important.
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