Reflections on Assessing Value for Money at Local Government Level

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George Bramley discusses his attendance and presentation at a recent Green Book event, and why these events are so useful for those who commission, produce or review business cases at the local government level. 

I recently had the opportunity to share my reflections at the ‘Green Book: One Year On: Value for Money’ event in December 2021 on developing business cases at the local government level. In this article, I hope to get across both the importance of such events to those who commission, produce or review business cases at the local government level, as well as summarising some of the points I made during my presentation and my reflections since based on the discussion.

By way of context, my first encounter with business cases was when I joined the then Department of Trade of Industry in the late 1990s. My role as an analyst focusing on enterprise and business support covered the whole evidence cycle, including developing with my team the strategic case and economic case, as well as commissioning evaluations – including several programmes to support innovation in government at the local level. About four years ago I returned full circle when I was asked to help develop business cases to support bids into similar programmes to demonstrate potential value for money (VFM).

In my presentation, I described two examples. One was a response to available funding from the European Regional Development Fund which was being administered by the Local Enterprise Partnership to refurbish premises to develop an Innovation Centre in the energy sector. The second was the development of a model in Excel to help design interventions for the retrofitting homes in Birmingham to become more energy efficient that consider local assets and involved local communities. Rather than repeat my presentation here, I provide some reflections based on the presentation and the discussion:

  • At the local level, there are multiple yardsticks against which to assess VFM and these can be blended depending on funding criteria. In the case of the Innovation Centre, it cut across business support, innovation and infrastructure and evaluations of similar interventions that you might benchmark differed considerably. Also, the time horizon against which benefits measure varied from 3 to 5 years for business support up to 30 years for refurbishment.
  • There is a broad range of benefits and costs to consider and at the local level assessment of value for money needs to include a commentary on how the intervention will build on or unlock other developments that provide local and regional benefits, as well as linking into national priorities.
  • Benefits and costs can be accrued by different government departments and local agencies. While the Green Book clearly stresses a societal perspective, silos between departments can mitigate against interventions that would create the most VFM. Working at the local level requires considerable investment in developing collaborations that are stable and do not come together for specific funding opportunities.
  • The availability of data can affect the ability to determine the scale required and the need for an intervention. While data may be available it may not be sufficiently disaggregated at the local level, or locally-held data may not be easily accessible, to allow meaningful modelling of economic benefits.
  • Local initiatives are too frequently shaped by funding rather than strategic opportunities. This means objectives against which VFM is assessed may be incorrectly specified and a funded intervention may fail to live up to expectations.
  • Where possible local interventions should be seen as pilots that demonstrate proof of concept and generate better data for future appraisals of VFM.
  • Within local government and agencies, those preparing VFM assessments cannot easily access the peer support that colleagues in central government have available. This is why the Green Book Network events are so important and why the West Midlands Regional Economic Development Institute (WMREDI) collaboration has invested in training and begun to establish a practitioner community.

On a more personal note, I found the opportunity to share issues and learning at the event valuable and I would encourage others to take part in future events. You can sign up for the Green Book Network newsletter here to find out about future events and the City-REDI / WMREDI newsletter here.

More blogs on The Green Book.

This blog was written by George Bramley, Senior Analyst, City-REDI / WMREDI, University of Birmingham.

The views expressed in this analysis post are those of the authors and not necessarily those of City-REDI / WMREDI or the University of Birmingham.

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