Skip to main content

Break on through: overcoming barriers to integration

Service integration is the most exciting game in town for local public services, providing a path to improved outcomes for communities and reductions in the cost of delivery. Government has made it clear that taking forward integrated working must be done locally; but progress and pace of change to date has been slow. Councils and their local partners are facing a series of barriers which are preventing them from acting. Local government has tended to argue that this lack of progress is because of Whitehall’s failure to address siloed central policy making. Ministers have generally responded to this by offering to ‘barrier-bust’ by removing specific barriers to integration where councils can identify them. But our research shows that this debate now needs to change.

People believe that most of the barriers that areas are facing are overwhelmingly local and, more often than not, are about local relationships and leadership. The majority of these barriers cannot be busted by anyone except local partners themselves painstakingly building stronger relationships with one another.

That is not to say that central government does not have a role to play in supporting the local public sector to integrate; there are things that central government can change at a structural level that will assist with the process of integration. The biggest of these is to reform local public service financing, which under the current financing regimes creates artificial barriers that can get in the way of building better local relationships.

Broadly though, the question for central government is not how to remove bureaucratic impediments, but how to deliver a more ambitious programme which supports the positive development of better local relationships. This means stronger cross-government leadership on service integration, with departments such as Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), Department for Education (DfE) and Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) providing a stronger lead to their agencies. It also means support for new financial mechanisms such as pooled budgets and payment by results initiatives which can drive collaboration.

With this in mind, this report focuses on what local areas can do themselves to transform and how central government can support this. What we really need is radical change of relationships at a local level, and to support areas to catalyse this process of building better partnerships.