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Local Area Agreement (Nottingham)

Volume 470: debated on Tuesday 8 January 2008

The title of this debate could hardly be drier, despite your eloquence in reading it out, Mr. Hancock, yet it is about the key social policy for the future of our society. In plain English, we are using early intervention policies to break the intergenerational nature of the cycle of underachievement in the UK, which will liberate the talents and potential of all our children rather than dooming them to repeat the failures of the past.

Every area must have a plan. The Minister for the Environment, who replied to the previous debate, knows very well that the local area agreement constitutes that plan. Nottingham, with its local and national partners, will use the LAA to pioneer a unique long-term strategy centred on a package of early intervention policies, starting at the prenatal stage, continuing through pre-school and school years, and completing the circle with parenting and relationship skills for teenagers that will enable the next generation of newborns to get the best start in life; a virtuous circle that replaces a vicious circle.

I pay tribute to all those involved in the policy, including our local strategic partnership, One Nottingham. Being recognised by central Government as a city that can demonstrate early intervention to others is an accolade indeed, especially as our partnership work was officially dubbed “failing” just two years ago. It marks the end of our first phase of development—the recovery of the local strategic partnership—and demonstrates the clarity that we all now share locally about our mission to tackle deprivation in a unique way. We have a 20-year programme of early intervention to pre-empt rather than to manage the consequences of personal and social failure.

Of course we must continue to swat the mosquitoes of antisocial behaviour, poor educational outcomes and worklessness. We must create the intellectual and professional space to drain the swamp of poor parenting and emotional and social dysfunction, too. The programme signals the beginning of the LAA as a vehicle for policy sharing. That in turn will herald effective and agreed budget sharing with all local partners. One Nottingham will seek to guide and evolve the policy over the next 12 to 24 months. It is a job that we will do with relish and imagination now that our local and national long-term goals can converge in the LAA. That is more productive and motivating than placating some irrelevant and burdensome central-targeting machinery that seems to have a life and an agenda of its own, separate from the task of improving the life chances of the people of Nottingham. Singing from the same LAA hymn sheet will end such discordance.

Hitherto, we had felt alone and exposed in introducing a serious long-term plan to alter radically the life chances of the people of Nottingham. However, the psychological impact of being asked to demonstrate the use of our LAA on early intervention is to give partners official recognition and permission to go ahead and tackle local challenges. The impact of those permissions in turning back 30 years of top-down conditioning of local officials cannot be underestimated. We thank the Government for their foresight in providing them.

We have overcome massive local challenges and have many more ahead. Our designation means that our key partners in national Government now understand what we are trying to do, and have confidence in us. We will seek to deepen our local and national engagement as we strengthen the social foundations of our city, and hopefully others will find that instructive. There are a number of areas in which national and local activities converge. On finance, we welcome the flexibility of the three-year funding set out in the comprehensive spending review, which will allow us to develop a local medium-term strategy with partners and end the destructive annual cycle, especially as it affects the voluntary sector, which the Minister and I discussed in our last Adjournment debate together. We will use the first three-year period to develop pooled budgeting and, much more ambitiously, seek to create—with support from the Department for Communities and Local Government, the Treasury and the Cabinet Office—the financial instruments necessary to recycle future savings from early intervention into the very investment necessary to initiate it. Although we do not seek Government funds, we need Government expertise. We have received extremely good assistance so far, not least from the Treasury and the Cabinet Office, as we tentatively explored the most effective financial instruments. The LAA gives us a three-year plan, which we can use to drive forward the necessary local cultural changes. That is a tremendous help. Short-term annual box ticking is the antithesis of effective planning. The Government have taken a brave step forward in recognising that and, despite some obvious resistance in parts of Whitehall—welcome to partnership working—we are moving towards a lower and more meaningful number of targets.

That process must continue and accelerate, because early intervention is about setting long-term intergenerational targets. To deliver lasting change and reduce the level of public resources required to mitigate the symptoms of multiple deprivation, we need targets and budget planning on a local and national level that recognise long-term ambition, which is neither risk nor, on occasion, imagination-averse. A good start has been made, but there is still some way to go.

In Nottingham, we will use the evolution of the local strategic partnership and the LAA to create space to allow a culture of joined-up planning, delivery and local budget setting. We have started to deliver an early intervention programme by co-ordinating a multitude of different services to improve the life chances of families in Nottingham. Government must be joined up to work in the same way. We hope that the creation of One Nottingham’s local and national partners’ forum, which has already had its first meeting in Whitehall, can evolve to show how that can be done. We welcome the concept of a cross-departmental agreement, or similar, that seeks to achieve that. We intend to put our sponsoring Minister to work to that end and to work on a number of other issues. We hope that our sponsoring Minister will not just be decoration, but a voice for us, moving us forward constructively within the Whitehall machinery.

We have received excellent support, too, from our Government regional office, field forces and other agencies. They need to come with us on to a higher level to incorporate that long-term approach much more intimately in their own work. The LAA focus on early intervention will show how we must work together with our local and national partners. Much of that is about process, but we must always remember why we are doing this. Early intervention is not an add-on. It is a prerequisite for transforming the lives of many of the citizens of Nottingham by breaking intergenerational cycles of underachievement, deprivation and social exclusion. If we can do that in Nottingham, there is no reason why we cannot do it elsewhere in the UK. Nottingham is a hard case, not least with its Victorian boundary, which includes former council estates in the inner and outer city but little else. Life expectancy in my city is four years lower than the national average, and varies within the city by 10 years between the most and least deprived areas.

There are high levels of child poverty in the city, and nearly two out of three children and young people live in workless or low-income households. Furthermore, despite a strong economy, almost half of Nottingham’s population—124,000 people—live in the 10 per cent. most deprived areas in England. My constituency also sends the fewest young people to university of any constituency in the United Kingdom. Finally, some 58 per cent. of births are out of wedlock—I make no moral judgment about that, but we must bear that factor in mind as we make progress on a number of problems in our city.

Partners have already tackled such problems across the board. There has been a 25 per cent. reduction in crime in the past three years, we have broken through the 50 per cent. five A to C GCSEs barrier this year, and there are many other examples from areas such as health and employment. However, heroic efforts by committed public servants in the here and now must be supported by a long-term strategy if they are to be sustained and built on. Early intervention is not a catchphrase, but a robust definition underpinning a specific package of measures. If it does not help to break the intergenerational cycle of disadvantage and deprivation, it is not early intervention.

Although we are already putting parts of our package in place, the most significant changes will not happen in the short term. We will be successful only if we remain patient locally and, above all, nationally as we build our policy interventions and change our culture. Our new local area agreement will be used as a tool to enable all partners to drive forward improvements and reshape services, with the early identification of issues and early intervention becoming standard practice—the modus operandi—for all partners across the city. That will take time, and I beg the Minister and his Department to bear with us—not to let us off the hook or give us an easy time—as we build. If they do, they will see developments taking shape through the years as part of a steady process.

Slowly and painstakingly, we are developing consensus across the city so that partners can work together in an integrated, holistic way. Some of that work will be about continuous improvement, building on much of the good work that is currently taking place; in other areas, we are prepared for radical innovation. For example, in its work on the social and emotional aspects of learning programme, Nottingham has taken the programme further than any other city following the intervention of the local strategic partnership, One Nottingham. Other examples of innovation include children’s centres and the intensive family support service, which has received match funding from One Nottingham and the Home Office. Work has been undertaken with health visitors, too, and we have tried to devise our own intensive health visiting scheme, along the lines of the nurse-family partnership that has been pioneered in 10 other cities. Another example of innovation is the targeted youth work undertaken under the pioneering Respect programme, which was invented in the city of Nottingham.

Nottingham, as an early intervention city, will break the intergenerational nature of underachievement and deprivation by identifying children, young people and families at the earliest possible opportunity, by intervening and by empowering people to transform their lives and their future children’s lives. As a demonstration area for the LAA, we have asked all our key partners to identify early intervention projects that are backed by a robust, proper evidence base and a research focus that is aligned to our mission. A sharp package of measures, some of which are already in place, and a clear implementation timetable will be endorsed and marketed in a way that is tangible to the public and professionals. We are preparing an exciting launch event—it might even involve the Minister’s own presence—with local and national partners in April 2008.

We are the first, so there is no blueprint. When we stumble, as we surely will, central Government must help us up, not berate us. One Nottingham, the local strategic partnership, will continue to lead our approach, with ever stronger governance and clearer lines of account. We will not only evolve our demands on partners in the public sector, but increasingly enable the business and voluntary sectors to step up to the plate, too. We will ensure that there are operational cross-cutting arrangements by, for example, allowing data and tracking to be used to facilitate early intervention and reinforce our commitment to a holistic, family-centred approach.

The Government’s decision to authorise our role as a demonstration area is a most welcome and timely boost, which will stimulate and firm up our thinking. We will use a wider group of local strategic partnerships and councils to bolster our learning and evaluation as we build an evidence base of what works. We already know that early intervention is about tying in best practice globally, nationally, regionally and locally, then tailoring specific policies to the local context.

Nottingham has set out its stall. We have made excellent progress and we relish the challenges ahead. Our Government partners must continue to help us over the coming year. First, they must provide public support to underpin the long-termism and patience that we require to be successful. Secondly, they can continue to help us, as I suggested earlier, to devise the financial instruments necessary to sustain early intervention for a generation. That will help us to avoid the massive and growing costs of subsidising failure by intervening early and cheaply to build success.

Local and national policy makers have realised that the financial, social and individual costs of late intervention are too high. Working locally and nationally as partners, through early intervention, we can find a better way in our city, which may give colleagues throughout the UK some examples of the way forward.

If the scheme is as good as the speech made by the hon. Member for Nottingham, North (Mr. Allen), I am sure that it will be a rip-roaring success. I invite the Minister to reply.

Happy new year to you, Mr. Hancock. It is a pleasure to have you as our Chairman—you have chaired a couple of Adjournment debates that I have taken part in. Let me also say happy new year to my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, North (Mr. Allen) and congratulate him on securing this Adjournment debate. He talked about One Nottingham, the local strategic partnership, but he did not mention that he actually chairs it—I assume that he still does, because he certainly used to.

This is the third in a trilogy of Adjournment debates initiated by my hon. Friend that I have answered, and they have always been a joy. Early intervention has been the strand running through them all. The first debate was about the “Every Child a Reader” scheme and reading recovery, and I can still recall the statistics that he used. According to his figures, which I still use, investing £5,000 under the scheme to enable a five-year-old to learn to read ultimately saves us about £250,000 a year, which is what it would cost if that child ended up involved in the criminal justice system. I also know from my time in what was the Department for Education and Skills that my hon. Friend encouraged Nottingham to be involved in the midwife and health visitor-led early intervention pilots, which he mentioned. His influence has therefore made a big difference to the way in which Nottingham focuses its local area agreement work.

I will say a little about Nottingham in a few moments, but let me first talk about the demonstration sites and the work that the Government have done on the framework, which I hope has helped to make possible some of the things that Nottingham wishes to do in the coming years.

The year 2007 was important because of the big changes that took place in the local government landscape. Piece by piece, we are delivering the framework that we promised in the local government White Paper. We saw the passage of the Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Act 2007, which puts local area agreements on a statutory footing and moves them from the margins to the centre of the new local government performance framework. We also undertook the dry run of the new local area agreements and published new guidance, so that everyone can, we hope, make a success of them. Furthermore, we got the new national indicator set down from 1,200 to 198, which was not an easy task, but it was an important achievement. Those are the main building blocks that will help to support a new and more mature relationship between local and central Government, as set out in the local government White Paper.

Local area agreements must add value to existing partnerships and lead to genuinely new and improved ways of partnership working. With that in mind, we have started to work with a small group of partnerships that will act as demonstration areas to help raise the bar in delivering ambitious local area agreements, as my hon. Friend has said. He mentioned that Nottingham is seeking not extra resource, but Government expertise. That is obviously a two-way process, with the Government seeking the expertise of Nottingham and other local authorities to help to shape future policy.

The new performance framework and the radical extension of freedom from centrally set targets have already removed many barriers previously faced by local authorities, but we recognise that systemic issues continue to be seen by many as a block to effective partnership working, thus limiting the delivery of more ambitious outcomes.

The aim of the demonstration areas programme is to adopt a problem-solving, collaborative approach, identifying and developing either local solutions to the barriers to delivery or changes to central Government policy. The demonstration areas are not piloting new-style local area agreements; nor will they be treated differently during the negotiations from those partnerships that are not involved.

The process is about local authorities and their local strategic partnerships, Government offices, Departments and Ministers working collaboratively to consider the barriers to delivery and tear them down, sharing what is learned from the process, so that it will be possible, with the whole local government family, to create real success in the future, and for the Government, as I have said, to learn, share some of the best practice and drive policy changes. That will enable everyone to make local area agreements work for them.

The demonstration areas programme will be taken forward through a series of theme-based problem-solving workshops with a focus on working together to explore what works and what could work. Seven broad themes have been identified for exploration by the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government. The detail of the themes and the scope and content of the workshops will be co-designed and owned by the participants. The process has already begun at official level with representatives from the partnerships, Government offices and Departments meeting to discuss the overall programme, asking for representatives to select the workshops that they would like to scope, design or attend. The broad themes are reacting to changing circumstances within the new performance framework; focusing on crime, worklessness, citizen empowerment, health, children and young people; housing and planning; and multi-area agreements.

There will be three main stages in taking the workshops forward. First, for each theme, there will be a planning stage meeting, which will involve working with key people from the demonstration areas, Departments and Government offices to scope out the theme and agree the content for a working session event and a ministerial workshop. It is proposed that two to three partnerships will help to lead each planning meeting and working session, and Nottingham will obviously be part of that, and a working session will follow. It will be an event of up to one full day, for interested partnerships, and the aims will be to get to grips with the main issues of the topic, including identifying the challenges, examples of current successful ways of working and potential solutions, and to agree the key issues to be taken forward for discussion with Ministers.

The third important element is the ministerial workshop, which will be an opportunity to discuss the agreed key issues identified at the working sessions and possible ways forward, including those issues identified for Ministers to take forward. As I have said, one stage of the process will involve the expertise of Government in supporting local authorities such as Nottingham, but Government will also learn from the expertise of local areas.

We are very pleased that Nottingham will be a demonstration area for local area agreements. It is a well deserved opportunity for Nottingham to be involved with partner areas and the Government in the sharing of good practice and the development of innovative local solutions to help deliver an ambitious local area agreement for the people of Nottingham. As my hon. Friend said, great progress has been made locally in the past two years. That is clear evidence of the progress that partners in Nottingham have made, working together as an effective local strategic partnership. As well as providing an opportunity to learn from others, being involved in the programme will allow Nottingham to demonstrate to other areas and to local government as a whole how they can benefit from its approach as an early intervention city.

We welcome such an innovative approach to tackling the ingrained intergenerational problems faced by many people in Nottingham. That approach encompasses a variety of mechanisms to support people across the board, ranging from support for mums-to-be who will need help with their babies, as my hon. Friend mentioned, through early years support for families provided by health visitors and local children’s centres, to providing teenagers with the right skills to make effective choices in relationships. My hon. Friend mentioned targeted youth support, and I have also mentioned projects, such as “Every Child a Reader”, which my hon. Friend has discussed in this Chamber on other occasions.

The Government are keen to see how the key partners working together in Nottingham will progress the ambitious programme to make improvements in services and break the cycle of deprivation and social exclusion. We would encourage Nottingham to take full advantage of the flexibilities allowed by the Government’s decision to announce, for the first time, a finance settlement that covers three years. Along with the new local area agreement that is currently being negotiated with central Government, that will provide a clear opportunity to plan ahead and to use the settlement to focus on the priorities that really matter in improving the lives and life chances of the people of Nottingham.

The taking of a long-term view on how to tackle the deep-rooted issues that affect the city is to be truly commended, and Nottingham and the other demonstration areas should view the new local area agreement as an integral part of the process and a way of changing the culture of partnership working to deliver long-term change. We understand that, as part of that planning for long-term change, Nottingham will be looking at how to use its financial flexibility to develop an invest-to-save model. The Government would be happy to explore that further with Nottingham and my hon. Friend as part of the demonstration process, as Nottingham firms up its ideas.

Nottingham’s involvement as a demonstration area will therefore give the city a chance to show what can be done when partners work together with a clear focus and the right tools for delivery. Nottingham will have a lot to share with other demonstration areas, other parts of the country and, importantly, Departments. It is vital that Nottingham should clearly demonstrate to central Government how its approach to early intervention is progressing, so that, across Whitehall, we can ensure that Government policy does not inadvertently put barriers in the way of delivering improvements in the way my hon. Friend alluded to. The Government are making strides in ensuring that Departments act in a more joined-up manner, and we would be happy to explore how that can be further enhanced through the demonstration site process.

We can assure partners in Nottingham that Ministers will continue to be interested in Nottingham’s progress as a demonstration area and in its approach to early intervention over the coming year. It was very nice to be invited by my hon. Friend to visit Nottingham, which is something that I am always delighted to do and have been able to do regularly as a Minister. It is nice for me, not least because I was a resident of the city for five years; it is where I did my degree and my masters degree. It is a great city, a great place to be and a place with unique challenges. It is great to see my hon. Friend and his colleagues doing so much to tackle the issues.

Order. I do not like to interrupt, but the time has evaporated. I thank the hon. Member for Nottingham, North and the Minister for an interesting debate.