Blair subtracts the divisions

Moves to improve the co-ordination of policy-making in key areas for social care were announced last week in a Whitehall restructure, reports Mithran Samuel

Along with the ministerial reshuffle and sackings, the prime minister has also announced changes to the structure of Whitehall that will have implications for social care (Directors warn against policy delays as Lewis takes over social care reins , 11 May).

The rationale behind the changes, affecting responsibility for social exclusion, the third sector, strengthening communities and equality, is to promote joined-up policy-making.

But on social exclusion and the third sector it remains unclear how the changes will work.

What is clear is that the new Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG), which replaces the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (ODPM), will have overarching responsibility for the other two areas.

On equality, it will take over the Home Office’s race and faith roles and the Department of Trade and Industry’s responsibilities for  gender and sexual orientation, and oversee the Commission for Equality and Human Rights, which comes into force next year.

Although the commission will also monitor age and disability equality issues, policy in these areas will remain with the Department for Work and Pensions.

On communities, the DCLG will bring together the ODPM’s local government, housing and regeneration functions with the Home Office’s responsibilities for community cohesion and promoting citizenship.

Improvement and Development Agency associate director Ted Cantle welcomes the move: “Some of the divisions between departments were unhelpful. Housing and regeneration have a profound impact on cohesion.”

Bringing them together, he argues, will help tackle the increase in support for the British National Party in some areas, which has fed off conflicts over resources, such as housing.

Toby Blume, chief executive of community sector umbrella group Urban Forum, says: “There’s been too much overlap and too little communication resulting from the tensions between the ODPM and the Home Office.”

Tackling social exclusion, which had been  the ODPM’s responsibility, is closely related to the communities agenda.

However, on 5 May, the day of the reshuffle, the prime minister’s office announced the Cabinet Office would take over responsibility for social exclusion, under Hilary Armstrong.

Yet four days later, in a published letter to new communities and local government secretary Ruth Kelly, Tony Blair said social exclusion would remain one of her department’s responsibilities. Neither the DCLG nor the Cabinet Office are able yet to confirm what the division of labour will be and where the social exclusion unit will sit.

The departments are in similar negotiations over the third sector, which used to be the responsibility of the Home Office’s active communities directorate.

Although the Cabinet Office will have a cross-government role in this area, Kelly last week claimed the DCLG would also have a role. Indeed, Kelly’s predecessor, David Miliband, had made empowering community groups a key plank of his plans for reforming local government.

The Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations backs the Cabinet Office’s new role in this area, given its general responsibility for co-ordinating policy.

Director of strategy and communications Nick Aldridge says it will be better placed than the Home Office to tackle long-standing problems in the delivery of public services by charities, such as full-cost recovery.

The government did consider passing some Department for Education and Skills responsibilities, including looked-after children, to the Cabinet Office under Armstrong’s social exclusion brief but this was ruled out.

A DfES spokesperson says: “Social exclusion will obviously cross into some of our areas but responsibility will remain with us.”


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