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Total Place Programme (High Peak)

Volume 506: debated on Monday 22 February 2010

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(Mrs. Hodgson.)

I am grateful, Mr. Speaker, for the opportunity to hold this debate. Let me say at the outset that I believe that the Department’s Total Place concept is a very fine objective and process. My only criticism is that it should have been in place many years ago.

As I understand it, Total Place looks at the sum total of public services available within a geographical area. It looks for crossovers between local government, central Government and Government agencies, and how location and other elements of co-working can be best employed to deliver high quality services more efficiently than before. Pilots are being conducted in various places across the country, even if they are not being conducted in my constituency.

I will say more about Total Place in a few minutes, but first I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister and you, Mr. Speaker, will indulge me if I say a little about the totality of services in High Peak. This is a particularly poignant moment for me as I am standing down at the forthcoming election. It is possibly the last substantial chance that I shall have to tell the House about the incredible developments that have taken place in High Peak during 13 years of a Labour Government.

For example, across High Peak crime has fallen consistently and strongly every year since Labour came into office. We have more police officers in Derbyshire than ever before—up from 1,791 in 1997 to 2,119 today—and the way in which they are organised into Safer Neighbourhood teams is impressive. It is the start—I repeat, only the start—of genuine community policing operating within every community and serving those communities by both tackling crime and increasing community confidence, and it provides the mechanism for making that local policing much more accountable to ordinary people.

That is important. I recently contributed to a report by my right hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett) into accountability in policing. Our very strong conclusion was that the most important level of accountability was at the community level, with the police telling people what is available and people telling officers what is needed. One way to do that is through better local authority scrutiny of policing and other non-local authority services, perhaps in the same way as local involvement networks—LINks—in the health service are being set up to do. I was delighted when the current Home Secretary accepted the proposals in full in his recent White Paper on policing.

I shall single out a few people for special mention. The first is Lee Baker. I hope that Lee is not an exceptional police community support officer because he symbolises for me exactly what police community support officers are about. He is a genuine man of the people, he cares about communities, he is a friendly face in New Mills whom people can approach, and he is not afraid to engage in the less sympathetic side of the job. I congratulate Lee Baker, Chief Constable Mick Creedon and all the others in between. I also say a special thank you to Janet Birkin for her leadership of Derbyshire police authority over some years which, like my tenure, will come to an end this summer.

Meeting people like Lee, Janet, Gary Staples, Barry Doyle and others has been a privilege, and I commend to my successor as the Member for High Peak—who, I have every confidence, will be Caitlin Bisknell, the Labour candidate—the police service parliamentary scheme as a great way of getting to know that service from the inside. Policing is a key public service, and police know as well as anyone that to reduce crime requires not only the officers, the skills, the technology and the communications, but the design of the housing estates and the shopping centre, economic stability and the awareness of complementary services. Crime reduction partnerships were perhaps a precursor of Total Place. The police in my area are keen contributors to the local strategic partnership and an officer is even embedded in the offices of the local borough council.

Perhaps my proudest achievements locally are, first, negotiating the merger of High Peak college with the university of Derby, making world-class courses in hospitality management and catering available to a world audience; and, secondly, acquiring a campus, which was the essential next step following the merger. The old Devonshire Royal hospital had stood empty for some years. It is a magnificent grade II* listed building, and early on we identified it as a wonderful site for a university campus.

To cut a long story short, the then university pro-vice-chancellor, Michael Hall, and I met my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, who was then a Health Minister. Several months later, we secured the Devonshire Royal hospital and its wonderful dome—one of the biggest of its kind in the world, more than 100 years old and sitting on top of a 250-year-old former stable block—as the home of the northern campus of the university of Derby at Buxton. It now provides higher and further education to more than 1,000 students, locals and incomers, and that wonderful building remains a glorious public asset.

Equally importantly, the university brings £25 million per year into the local economy and engages actively in all aspects of local life, not just the academic aspects. It promotes the wider skills agenda and is a major contributor to the culture of the town of Buxton, which already has a wonderful reputation for annual opera and literary festivals and their fringes, and for Georgian architecture.

Roger Waterhouse was that pioneering vice-chancellor and John Coyne is his successor, and I thank them for their leadership of the university over the years. John Coyne is a relatively new recruit to the regional economic cabinet, a group established in autumn 2008 by the Minister for the East Midlands, my hon. Friend the Member for Corby (Phil Hope). My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary will know what I am talking about, as she too is a Regional Minister. The economic cabinet is a body on which I have had the great pleasure of sitting throughout that time as deputy to my hon. Friend the Minister for the East Midlands. Bringing together businesses large and small, trade unions, the third sector, universities, the Jobcentre network, local authorities, learning and skills councils and other agencies, the regional economic cabinet is in some respects a Total Place exercise for the whole region.

I hope that lottery funding, which was used to rescue our dome, will be included in the Total Place assessment of how areas work. Heritage lottery funding has been available for the past 13 years to help us retain and restore not only the Devonshire’s dome, but Buxton opera house, the Victorian Pavilion gardens and the ongoing work to return St. Ann’s hotel in the Crescent to its rightful role as the country’s leading spa hotel.

Talking of lottery funds, let me move the focus from Buxton to Gamesley, the most deprived ward in my constituency, which was built in the early 1960s to replace slums in central Manchester. It was not well designed, being a stand-alone housing estate on a greenfield site a bus journey a way from Glossop, with limited facilities and no employment opportunities, and it remains the most deprived ward in my constituency. However, its community spirit and the way in which certain individuals have led the community over the years has been tremendous.

I compliment Pat Javanaud in particular. Pat is employed by Derbyshire county council in its community education department, but over the past three years she has managed a £250,000 lottery grant under the “Reaching Communities” umbrella. More than one third of Gamesley’s population has engaged in training courses or other provisions designed to strengthen community bonds and its capacity to thrive. Pat’s incredibly cheery spirit and her passionate commitment to her work mean that she has been able to deliver a huge step change in how the community works. The estate recognises that work through the annual achievement awards that she organises each December, when people experience the thrill of others recognising the value of their skills—for work, life or caring—for the very first time.

Pat’s partner in crime in Gamesley must be Lynn Kennington. An early excellence centre emerged from Gamesley a generation ago, providing splendid support for the community’s youngest children and families who face the most difficult challenges on that isolated and unfortunate estate. That large and sprawling centre evolved into High Peak’s first Sure Start centre, with Gamesley and Lynn winning national recognition for having created a true centre of excellence. If the east midlands is a macro Total Place, Sure Start is its micro equivalent. Bringing together not just education and health services, but social, culture, adult and community education and Jobcentre outreach services under one roof, Sure Start—of which there are now five centres in High Peak, including two that were purpose-built by this Labour Government—is a wonderful institution.

Talking of excellence, and returning to the police for a moment, I will never forget one night in Gamesley when I went on the beat with a special constable. Our task was to check that young people were observing their curfews. We went to one house and the mother said, “He’s upstairs, asleep.” “At 8 pm?”, we wondered—and yes, he was. His mother said: “Thank you. That curfew has really brought my family together—I’ve got to know my son again.”

Communities function best when they have a vibrant volunteering infrastructure, and Gamesley is no exception. Gamesley residents association is staffed entirely by volunteers and provides a daily source of advice, support and information, bringing voluntary groups together with each other and with the statutory services, and providing a focus for councillors. For Gamesley—of course, they are all Labour in this area—the hard-working Anthony Mckeown and his father Bob, the ex-mayor, are on the borough council and the ubiquitous Councillor David Wilcox is the Derbyshire county council representative.

Elsewhere across High Peak, we are privileged to be served by what I believe is one of the best councils for voluntary service in the country. I am proud that I was able to be in at the start by convening a working party to set up the CVS, which now provides services to the national CVS movement, as well as a wide range of training and other opportunities for community groups across High Peak to tap into and deliver their part in the community life of their areas. Kevin Skingsley is its dynamic leader, but I cannot mention the voluntary sector without name-dropping a few more individuals: Jo Ward at Glossop volunteer centre, Dorothy Scapens at New Mills volunteer centre, and Sue Howard at Buxton volunteer centre, all of whom have contributed so much to their communities over the years. At Glossop volunteer centre, in particular, the engagement with V-Inspired, the charity that promotes youth volunteering, has been substantial, with more than 200 young people introduced to volunteering for the first time, some of whom will be in London tomorrow to receive awards for their work.

While I am talking about volunteers, let me say a word about Joyce Ellis. At about the same time that I was working to become the Member of Parliament for High Peak, Joyce and a small group of others were establishing the Kinder children’s choir. With never fewer than 100 members of the full choir, this organisation has gone from strength to strength. Young people from eight to 18, with no need for an audition, are taken on a whirlwind journey of developing musical excellence, self-discipline and responsibility. My daughter was a member of that choir for seven years. The experience that these children have had—not only appearing on television on a regular basis and producing CDs of their work, but singing in such places as Eisteddfods, the Royal Festival hall, St. Paul’s cathedral and European venues, not to mention the Chapel downstairs—has been absolutely tremendous: a character-forming experience that those children will never forget.

If there is one area that will no doubt fall within the Total Place ambit which has been disappointing over these years, it has been the provision of housing. Following the low priority we gave to that in the early years of government, 10,000 houses are needed in our area in the next 20 years. A number of things will make it very difficult to meet that target—not least the abuse, as I see it, of town and village green applications to thwart planning applications on brownfield sites, a practice that is now widespread but had its origins in High Peak. I commend the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs for trying to address that, but it needs to hurry things up. The attitude of the Conservative party locally and nationally is not helpful, either—saying no to local development and refusing to co-operate with strategic planning for housing provision. It has not been possible to deliver the houses that the 4,000 families on High Peak’s council waiting list need, let alone those that the market demands should be provided. We did not sufficiently take the initiative and prioritise housing until it was too late, and that must be a matter for regret.

I think that it is unlikely that when Total Place is spread across the country it will look at the capacity of an area to accommodate ramblers. However, High Peak is the spiritual home of rambling and open access to the countryside—from the Kinder trespass of 1932 to the establishment of national parks in 1948, of which the Peak District was the first, right through to the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 and my proud moment of attending the opening of the first piece of open-access land created under that Act at Derbyshire Bridge. If rambling is not part of the Total Place process, the national parks will be, and the needs of isolated communities must be taken into account. Too often, places such as High Peak have not had the help that they need, not because there is no deprivation but because the pockets of deprivation have been too small to register for Government schemes.

I wish to put some substantive points to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary. When considering Total Place we must ask, “What place?” I guess that the local authority is the building block of Total Place UK, although as I have said, we can also think of it as working at regional level. City regions, which acknowledge that “place” can have different meanings for different purposes, are a rational idea, as is the sharing of chief executives and essential back-office services when two adjacent borough councils with much in common decide to do so. That is sensible. What is not sensible is for two councils not even in the same region, let alone the same county, to form an unequal partnership in which one dominates the other and job losses are concentrated more in one than the other, in which even councillors are not consulted on the extent of the merger and in which it is no longer credible for the two councils to implement separate policies and have separate identities.

Merged in all but name, with only the council chambers remaining nominally independent of each other, that is what we are seeing in the so-called strategic alliance between Staffordshire Moorlands and High Peak councils. It is an unpopular and clumsy arrangement, and covering the area from the south of Barnsley to the south-east of Stoke-on-Trent, it is not fit for purpose. I have nothing against Staffordshire Moorlands—I grew up there—but the merger has gone too far, led by Tory councillors in both areas who know the cost of everything and the value of nothing. My hon. Friend’s Department is currently considering the effectiveness of such alliances, and I ask her to examine carefully that example of how not to forge alliances, even where the concept of Total Place must allow for some strategic co-operation between councils.

In High Peak, our local strategic partnership has always allowed the third sector a major voice, often giving it the role of chairing the organisation. Yet in too many LSPs, the third sector—the voluntary and not-for-profit sector—does not get a look-in. What is the relationship between LSPs and Total Place partnership boards? Are they actually the same thing?

My hon. Friend will be aware of pioneering work in the east midlands on public service agreement 16, which is focusing help on those with learning difficulties or mental health problems and those coming out of care or prison. She will be aware that many people are in more than one of those groups. Will she assure me that joined-up government, which is at the heart of Total Place, will build on that good work and ensure that co-ordinated services are focused on those most in need, such as people in the PSA16 groups?

As a way of avoiding and moving away from silo government, will my hon. Friend ensure that the Smarter Government proposals, for greater personal access to information and services using the latest technology, support the Total Place process and are not independent of it? What level of efficiency savings will she regard as showing that the Total Place approach works, and how else will she measure its success? Does she expect it to result in job losses, and is the intention behind more effective co-working between services in each locality to save money through efficiencies, or to provide more and better services for the same amount of money? I hope it is the latter.

I have spent 13 years representing High Peak in this place and seven years working up to it beforehand. It is in my blood and my heart, and there is nowhere better in the whole country to breathe than the top of Mam Tor or Kinder Scout. It is time for me to move on now and use my experience, and what wisdom I have gained along the way, in other ways. Before I go, I look forward to hearing what my hon. Friend has to say about the inspiring concept of Total Place and its possible impact on my totally inspiring constituency.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for High Peak (Tom Levitt) on securing this debate. He is a friend in the House and outside, and I commend his enthusiastic dedication to his constituents and his constituency, which, as we could tell from his speech, he knows well and has served well for many years. I know that, like me, he is standing down at the general election, and he will be very much missed both in the House and in High Peak. I wish him well in his new life. First, though, back to the old life for a moment, but to an interesting and crucial part of it—Total Place.

Like my hon. Friend, I am passionate about Total Place and feel that it brings a long overdue overhaul of how and where public money is spent, and how we can spend that money to best effect. It identifies blockages that prevent change and create barriers, particularly funding barriers, which have for so long proved to be such big stumbling blocks to reform of government at all levels. I am glad that local government is the most open of all levels of government to Total Place, but it will eventually move right through the system, to regional and central Government.

Before dealing with Total Place in more detail, I should like to address the sharing of chief executives and back-office services by councils, which my hon. Friend mentioned. I understand his concern that such arrangements could lead to unequal partnerships, with one council dominating the other. However, an arrangement has been put in place by agreement between High Peak and Staffordshire Moorlands councils and their leaders, who are committed to making it work. I understand that there is a feeling that some of the political members have been marginalised, which I regret, but it is for the councils themselves—quite rightly—to make such arrangements, which are part of a growing trend in English local government and a quest to develop innovative approaches to service delivery at the same time as maximising operational efficiencies and savings. The overriding aim of the trend is to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the services being delivered to residents.

I spoke of inequalities. When the two middle management tiers were merged, every single job loss was in High Peak, and the number of new jobs for High Peak in the future jobs fund bid from the two councils was only two. That is what I mean by the discrepancy and inequality between the two councils. How can one group of middle management deliver two contrary sets of policies in the two council areas, should the electorate decide that one of the councils should have a different type of political leadership?

I completely understand my hon. Friend’s concerns, but he puts me in an impossible position, because the Government rightly do not interfere in the decisions that are taken at local government level. Local government is accountable for such decisions, not to central Government but to electorates and the auditors. Although I understand his concerns, they must be taken up by the electorates in High Peak and Staffordshire Moorlands, particularly, by the sound of it, in the former. I note what he says and we must learn from the experience for future Total Place activities, as Total Place is not a pilot but an action.

As my hon. Friend says, Total Place brings together all public service providers to look at how public money is spent in an area and to ask hard questions about the best use of it. The partnerships include primary care trusts and police authorities. I am happy to see that that is working in High Peak, and I was very taken by my hon. Friend’s descriptions of the work done by people such as Lee Baker and Janet Birkin. They are the very stuff of the English local government system, and without them our country would be a much poorer place.

My hon. Friend asked about the relationship between local service partnerships and Total Place partnership boards. The Total Place initiative builds on the LSP approach. Total Place pilots have developed governance structures that reflect the policy areas that they have been considering. They can involve chief executives and leaders from each local authority, primary care trusts, Jobcentre Plus, the police and other partners in the LSP, but they can go further and include organisations from outside the LSP, such HM Courts Service.

Local government is embarking on this from a position of strength. The Government’s recent White Paper “Smarter Government” set out our commitments, on which we will report at the time of the Budget. The door remains open for radical shifts in service delivery. As my hon. Friend rightly pointed out, Total Place is not an exclusive club, and councils and their partners need not be formally part of the pilot initiative to consider how the approach could benefit their areas. It is crucial for those running pilots, and others, to remain ambitious in their thinking.

I thank my hon. Friend for highlighting the work done in the east midlands on PSA16. I assure him that Total Place will build on that excellent work, and will ensure that co-ordinated services remain focused on delivery of the best possible outcomes for the area.

Both Smarter Government and Total Place are intended to improve service delivery at local level, and improving citizens’ access to information and services through the use of new technology is a key part of achieving those goals. Someone who knows that £7.5 billion of public money is being spent every year in a city such as Birmingham is empowered to identify how it is being spent and where there is duplication. I believe that making such detailed information publicly, easily and comprehensively available is key to the massive reform movement that is taking place. Streamlined contact between different providers and service users is another key theme.

My hon. Friend asked what was the aim of more effective collaboration between services in each locality. The Total Place approach involves moving away from protection of territory and budgets and persuading people to work together and, at times, to switch resources between different providers. That cuts out duplication, waste and bureaucracy, and saves not just time but money and effort. Some of the money runs into millions of pounds, which can be reinvested. It is designed to improve people’s experience of services, and to make those services genuinely seamless.

It is encouraging to learn that Total Place is already taking root so well in High Peak, and I look forward to its taking root at regional and Whitehall level. It is a radical model and one on which I hope we can build, particularly in the area of housing. I am glad that council properties in High Peak—

House adjourned without Question put (Standing Order No. 9(7)).