Jon Cruddas MP heads Labour's policy review. Photo: Getty
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How councils are already delivering the Cruddas agenda

If you want to know what a Miliband government might look like, you should start by paying a visit to your local town hall.

What does it mean to be a socialist in a shrinking state? The Labour Party comes a step closer to an answer today as Ed Miliband launches IPPR's Condition of Britain report, but the key themes of a new approach are already clear. In fact, they are already being implemented up and down the country by local authorities. If you want to know what a Miliband government might look like, you should start by paying a visit to your local town hall.

Councils have a tendency to lead the pack when it comes to government innovation. They invented public education and sanitation in the 19th century, the national health service in the 20th and now they are on the cusp of pioneering a new approach to government and welfare. This rapidly accelerated process of change is being driven by gigantic budget cuts - many councils will halve in size over the course of the current decade against a backdrop of rising demand for their services, especially social care.

So far, most councils have focused on ruthless pruning of staff and some restriction of services. But over the next few years many will launch into a radical programme of change that will confound both small state conservatives and big state leftists by showing that we can still have active and effective government with much less money. 

Neighbourhoods will be asked to help decide how to spend declining budgets for street cleaning, leisure and parks. Some leisure centres may be closed altogether and local people given subsidised gym memberships to their local Virgin Active. Face-to-face customer contact will disappear in some areas to be replaced with websites and carefully trained neighbours and shop workers.

The themes underpinning this change are precisely those that might inform a new settlement of the kind envisaged by Jon Cruddas. Councils are heavily shifting their services towards prevention rather than cure. Services are being reformed to keep old people living independently in their own homes rather than letting them languish in expensive and depressing care homes and hospitals. In some areas, councils will pay families and carers to build social support networks around young people with learning disabilities, reducing their lifetime cost to the public sector.

Councils are taking a much more active role in shaping the local economy to ensure that it creates fewer problems for the state to solve. This is partly about working together across conurbations such as Greater Manchester to identify growth industries and encourage the creation of middle income jobs. But it is also about interventions to give consumers better choices, ranging from bulk purchasing of energy and insurance to the creation of white good stores with cheap consumer credit and alternative payday lenders.

The public is also being asked to contribute more of its time to shaping and supporting public goods. In some areas they will be given control of parks and asked to maintain them. In others, they are already being asked to cook meals for neighbours and grit their own streets in the winter. The best metaphor I can find for this new model of government is the common; the idea that a place is a vital resource that business, households and government must all contribute to maintaining. 

There is no doubt that what is emerging in town halls is embryonic, messy and imperfect. That is to be expected. Councils are being forced into a new paradigm of government at breakneck pace. They are held back by very deep budget cuts, which raise very serious questions about whether some councils can survive in their current reform. No amount of reform will allow us to run social care on thin air. 

A Labour government in 2015 can fuel the local revolution by accepting recommendations from its policy commissions to devolve housing benefit, reduce limits of council borrowing, and by devolving big pooled budgets to fuel economic growth and closer working with the health service. We live in a time when the central progressive dilemma is how to decouple social progress from the act of spending public money. In local government we can see the future. In a few years, we will start to understand whether or not it works.

Simon Parker is director of the New Local Government Network

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In focusing on the famous few, we risk doing a disservice to all victims of child sexual abuse

There is a danger that we make it harder, not easier, for victims to come forward in future. 

Back in the 1970s when relations between journalists and police were somewhat different to today a simple ritual would be carried out around the country at various times throughout the week.

Reporters, eager for information for their regional newspaper, would take a trip to the local station and there would be met by a desk sergeant who would helpfully skim through details in the crime Incident Book.

Among the entries about petty thefts, burglaries and road accidents there would occasionally be a reference to an allegation of incest. And at this point the sergeant and journalist might well screw-up their faces, shake their heads and swiftly move on to the next log. The subject was basically taboo, seen as something ‘a bit mucky,’ not what was wanted in a family newspaper.

And that’s really the way things stayed until 1986 when ChildLine was set up by Dame Esther Rantzen in the wake of a BBC programme about child abuse. For the first time children felt able to speak out about being sexually assaulted by the very adults whose role in life was to protect them.

And for the first time the picture became clear about what incest really meant in many cases. It wasn’t simply a low level crime to be swept under the carpet in case it scratched people’s sensitivities. It frequently involved children being abused by members of their close family, repeatedly, over many years.

Slowly but surely as the years rolled on the NSPCC continued to press the message about the prevalence of child sexual abuse, while encouraging victims to come forward. During this time the corrosive effects of this most insidious crime have been painfully detailed by many of those whose lives have been derailed by it. And of course the details of the hundreds of opportunistic sexual assaults committed by Jimmy Savile have been indelibly branded onto the nation’s consciousness.

It’s been a long road - particularly for those who were raped or otherwise abused as children and are now well into their later years - to bring society around to accepting that this is not to be treated as a dark secret that we really don’t want to expose to daylight. Many of those who called our helpline during the early days of the Savile investigation had never told anyone about the traumatic events of their childhoods despite the fact they had reached retirement age.

So, having buried the taboo, we seem to be in danger of giving it the kiss of life with the way some cases of alleged abuse are now being perceived.

It’s quite right that all claims of sexual assault should be investigated, tested and, where there is a case, pursued through the judicial system. No one is above the law, whether a ‘celebrity’ or a lord.

But we seem to have lost a sense of perspective when it comes to these crimes with vast resources being allocated to a handful of cases while many thousands of reported incidents are virtually on hold.

The police should never have to apologise for investigating crimes and following leads. However, if allegations are false or cannot be substantiated they should say so. This would be a strength not a weakness.

It is, of course, difficult that in many of the high-profile cases of recent times the identities of those under investigation have not been officially released by the police but have come to light through other means. Yet we have to deal with the world as it is not as we wish it would be and once names are common knowledge the results of the investigations centring on them should be made public.

When it emerges that someone in the public eye is being investigated for non-recent child abuse it obviously stirs the interest of the media whose appetite can be insatiable. This puts pressure on the police who don’t want to repeat the mistakes of the past by allowing offenders to slip through their hands.  And so there is a danger, as has been seen in recent cases, that officers lack confidence in declaring there is a lack of evidence or the allegations are not true. 

The disproportionate weight of media attention given to say, Sir Edward Heath, as opposed to the Bradford grooming gang sentenced this week, shows there is a danger the pendulum is swinging too far the other way. This threatens the painstaking work invested in ensuring the public and our institutions recognise child abuse as a very real danger. 

Whilst high profile cases have helped the cause there is now a real risk that the all-encompassing focus on them does both victims of abuse and those advocating on their behalf a fundamental disservice.

As the public watches high -profile cases collapsing amidst a media fanfare genuine convictions made across the country week in week out go virtually unannounced. If this trend continues they may start to believe that child sexual abuse isn’t the prolific problem we know it to be.

So, while detectives peer into the mists of time, searching for long lost clues, we have to face the unpalatable possibility that offences being committed today will in turn only be investigated fully in years or decades' time because there is not the manpower to deal with them right now.

So, now the Goddard Inquiry is in full swing, taking evidence about allegations of child sex crimes involving ‘well known people’ as well as institutional abuse, how do we ensure we don’t fail today’s victims?

If they start to think their stories are going to be diminished by the continuing furore over how some senior public figures have been treated by the police they will stay silent. Therefore we have to continue to encourage them to come forward, to give them the confidence of knowing they will be listened to.

If we don’t we will find ourselves back in those incestuous days where people conspired to say and do nothing to prevent child abuse.

Peter Wanless is Chief Executive of the NSPCC.