Freesteel Blog » A quick checkup on Total Place

A quick checkup on Total Place

Thursday, March 18th, 2010 at 12:36 pm Written by:

I haven’t got time for this, not being a professional journalist investigator, but I’ve got the background material collected and would regret it if I never presented it.

What is Total Place?

Total Place, is an ambitious and challenging programme that [brings] together elements of central government and local agencies within a place…

This work weaves together two complimentary strands. A ‘counting’ process that will map money flowing through the place (from central and local bodies) and make links between services, to identify where public money can be spent more effectively.

This forms part of Sir Michael Bichard’s work on the Operational Efficiency Programme looking at the scope for efficiency savings in the public sector.[1]

Great! we thought. This map of money flowing through the place is exactly what we need to make the WhereDoesMyMoneyGo project a reality. Public money is the life-blood of the state, coursing through the arteries of institutions into centres of activity. Where there is money, there is life. Where there is not money, nothing happens because people have been drilled into believing: Why the hell should I do any work if I don’t get paid for it?

The issues behind Total Place are politically charged because this whole election is going to be about the budget deficit on account of the over-spend on public services.

If this were a functioning democracy, the problem would go away by taxing the rich, because the majority of us are not rich, and we would simply out-vote the rich in terms of setting public policy. And given the enormous gap in wealth, we could do most of it by taxing the super-rich, and there are even fewer of them.

However, as this is not a functioning democracy, this deficit has to be handled by cutting spending, which is not popular, because people grown used to having things like hospitals, schools, roads, policemen, and so forth. So the holy grail for the politicians is to be able to persuade the public that we can cut spending without changing the services. Therefore they need to make the case that there is a lot of waste in the system, and if this is cut out, we can save money without anyone noticing the difference — except for those who used to be employed by this wasteful spending.

This has always been the goal. The Blair government thought it could do it with IT spending. But then they hired a know-nothing like Andrew Pinder as its e-Envoy, who went around the world signing deals with Microsoft and saying that putting services on-line would cost 800,000 government jobs, which people interpreted as meaning it would save the equivalent 800,000 employees salaries on public funds. What he really meant was that at least this amount of the government work was going to be out-sourced to Microsoft shops, where it would cost more than that, and there would be no savings. (For details, see the story of the Rural Payments Agency.)

Indeed, this was confirmed in not so many words by Operational Efficiency Programme (the fore-runner of Total Place) where they by compared our performance to other nations and recognized that we were being thoroughly ripped off. The report somehow completely avoided a single passing glance to what these other countries were doing that was different to Britain (they hire software engineers instead of only lawyers, and they make strategic investments in open source software).

Where does the public money go? What form is the data recorded? Are they collating any data at all?

According to the Total Place FAQ:

Tribal have been commissioned to help support pilots in counting public expenditure, deep dive into specific policy themes within the area, and customer insight work. They will work directly with the pilots to help build a picture of what’s known so far and where more information is needed. Their involvement from an early stage will help increase the potential for the Total Place initiatives to reach well beyond the boundaries of local government to meet the needs of customers now and in the future.

From me to DCLG 22 September 2009 in an FOI request:

Please may I have a copy of the contract and project budget details
in relation to Tribal Consult’s commissioning in the Total Place Initiative.

For a project that is intended to deep dive into the counting of
public expenditure, the official website appears to be desperately
short of details about the project itself.

The contract was for more than £200k, and stated a number of deliverables, which I itemized:

From me to DCLG 14 December 2009:

According to the contract disclosed on 11 December via a Freedom of Information request by me, the DCLG procured the following deliverables from Tribal Consulting:

  • Interim report on high level spend count, including initial spend pathway map (due early August)
  • Report on high level spend count to include: Pilot areas experience of conducting the high level spend, First draft of spend count guidelines, High level spend pathway map (due early September)
  • Interim deep dive reports with initial spend pathway maps for several of the service themes (due end September)
  • Final set of deep dive reports, including spend pathway maps for 6 – 8 service themes (due end October)
  • Final draft of spend count guidelines (“later”)

These all look like very interesting documents. However, after scouring every link on the Total Place website, I can find no trace of any of them.

Please can you either put these documents up on your website, or send me copies to this email address?

The response was:

A summary of the local spend count figures is provided as the local pilots have already released this. Other deliverables from the contract cannot be developed until the deep dive reports have been submitted by the pilots.

Further information is being withheld under Section 22 (Information intended for future publication) of the Freedom of
Information Act as it is scheduled for publication.

I wrote:

I am unable to determine what this means, as my request was for clearly defined sets of reports that I believed were to be delivered by Tribal Consulting on set dates (early August, early September, end September, and end October).

Were these reports delivered on the dates set out in the contract?

Do you hold copies of them?

If I have misinterpreted the contract documents that I have seen, what exactly are Tribal Consulting’s deliverables and on what dates?

The answer was at least unambiguous:

Question: Were these reports delivered on the dates set out in the contract?

No, these reports were not delivered on the dates set out in the contract. The Spend Count and Deep Dive contract with Tribal Consulting has been changed to reflect that the pilots have taken on responsibility for producing the spend count and deep dive information.

Question: Do you hold copies of them (the reports)?

No, we do not hold copies of any of these reports as they have not been produced. Total Place is a locally led initiative where the pilots are given an opportunity to develop innovate solutions. In line with this the pilots now lead on and compile the information that will be fed into the final reports. Tribal Consulting’s role has been modified from working with the pilots to consolidating and analysing information submitted by the pilots. Tribal Consulting are also assisting the Department with the Durham pilot deep dive on Housing for Regeneration. The only deliverables from this contract that the Department has are the high level spend counts which it received an update for in December. A summary of this data was previously released.

Question 4: What exactly are Tribal Consulting’s deliverables and on what dates?

The deliverables of the Tribal Consulting contract have been changed to those listed below. Delivery dates have been pushed back and are still to be finalised, but supporting material will need to be consolidated for the budget. We therefore anticipate concurrent or near concurrent delivery of the following deliverables in Spring. I will ensure you are informed of the delivery date when it is formalised.

Now, there’s not much point in having a contract if it gets varied on the day it is signed. It’s just a propaganda tool to make it appear that everything is regimented and organized, when in fact it’s all just informal and open to favouritism and corruption. Which is fine, if it gets the job done.

On March 16 the Pilots’ final reports were published on their webpage:

Let’s start with Birmingham. It’s a 99 page document, which begins with the quote:

“If water streams through your kitchen ceiling and you find the cause is an overflowing bath upstairs, the first thing most people would do is to turn off the tap. In the public sector, we’ve got really good at clearing up the mess and patching the ceiling, but we leave the water still running.”

Here’s another paragraph from the report.

Present arrangements waste money on multiple front office facilities for different agencies; multiple assessments of users with different approaches and partial data sharing between professions; separate back office functions such as finance, ICT and procurement; commissioning for particular symptoms rather than the whole individual. These are luxuries we can no longer afford, so we will work together to deliver radical cost savings through rationalisation in these areas.

Blah blah blah blah. Random diagrams through in. There is nothing here.

What’s interesting is this report was written right in the aftermath of the great 2009 Birmingham City Council website disaster, where all the usual flaws in government IT procurement (lawyers, closed source incompetent contractors, etc) bit them again.

It could have been a learning experience, but, like with the Operational Efficiency Program, they didn’t want to learn — probably because the current band of powerful IT consultants know very well what they don’t want to learn.

According to this report, nothing happened.

Le’ts check out Coventry, Solihull and Warwickshire:

Total Place has worked as a catalyst, enabling us to make a step-change in our sub-regional partnership and set out a clear journey that is already redefining how we work with each other and Central Government to deliver better services for less money. The concordat needs to be tested and implemented for children’s services quickly. Its cultural focus on getting relationships right, both amongst ourselves and with Central Government is underpinned by practical proposals to allocate resources sub-regionally, net of public sector debt, with better pooling of risks and resources and greater flexibility as part of economic transition.

Nope! Next!

Same nothingness with Dorset.

I’m not kidding. Look at this diagram from their interrim report:

I’ve scrolled through every document. Every one is Total Crap.

What am I looking for?

The Treasury has a database known as Combined Online Information System (COINS), which is a detailed analysis of departmental spending under thousands of category headings.

You would think that the very first thing any one of these Total Place projects would do is get access to this database.

But not one of them mentions its existence.

What else am I looking for?

Some actual evidence of any kind of computerized analysis. For example, because the government cares so much about expanding Heathrow, they refer to at least eleven detailed and technical computer models to justify and plan it.

I mean, check this out from page 153 of the Department of Transport’s UK Air Passenger Demand and CO2 forecasts:

If even one tenth of the technical acumen had been applied to analysing the flow of public money as was put in to cooking up the environmental economic case for expanding Heathrow, it would not be obvious, wouldn’t it?

No way!


  • 1. Paul Bradshaw replies at 18th March 2010, 1:16 pm :

    Hi Julian,

    If you wanted to put this question onto Help Me, I’d be happy to send you an invite and see if I can get some others to help.

  • 2. Julian replies at 30th March 2010, 7:42 pm :

    Which question? I got so many here?

  • 3. Freesteel&hellip replies at 18th October 2010, 3:02 pm :

    […] now Lord Bichard, came onto my radar as the leader of the Total Place Initiative in March of this year. Nothing came of that, but I did […]

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