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  • Writer's pictureDavid Marlow

Is ‘Total Place’ a concept whose time has finally come?

Updated: Mar 15

With think tank New Local publishing 'Its time for Total Place 2.0', for their first Espresso Shot episode of March 2024 David and Mike revisit their recollections of ‘Total Place 1.0' – the place based budgeting pilots of the Blair-Brown government – and consider why it remains a compelling idea, albeit with some very practical challenges.

Roundtable budget planning session

What is Total Place?  


‘Total Place’ as a concept is the idea that you map the total public spend in a place – a region, city, town, or any administrative area – and use that data to deliver policies, plans and programmes more effectively in both outcome and financial terms. The term was used to badge a specific pilot project in 13 areas in the latter years of the Blair-Brown government. This was then replaced by the Coalition government with ‘Whole-Place Community’ and neighbourhood-based budgeting pilots.

David contributed to the March 2010 paper 'Total Place: a whole-area approach to public services'. This set out Labour’s approach to whole-system reform, championed by then Minister of Communities and Local Government, John Denham. Denham, now co-author of the New Local report with Studdert, essentially updates and adapts lessons from both Total Place and Whole-Place Community Budget pilots to propose Total Place 2.0 as a foundation for subnational public services reform going forward.

These initiatives have been positively evaluated by, among others, NAO in this 2013 report. Total Place 2.0 has clear potential for significant savings and step-change service improvements. However, considerable barriers identified in the pilots need to be addressed to realise this potential.

What are the benefits of and barriers to a Total Place approach?


A well-founded Total Place approach can address chronic shortcomings in current public services operating models. Understanding and deploying total place-based public spend locally should be more agile and flexible in meeting local need, anticipate and invest more in prevention rather than post-problem mitigation, reduce top-down departmental silos and duplication of spend, and potentially increase community agency in determining priorities.

However, it is not easy to measure and map spend sub-nationally, sub-national partnership working and community agency can be resource and time intensive, and there are practical problems like data sharing and conflicting accountabilities. Perhaps most challenging is the need for this approach to be long-term and to be accompanied by fundamental reforms nationally to give up powers and resources to local decision makers and delivery agents.      


How important might Total Place 2.0 be in the medium and long-term?


So many LEDC episodes, and most commentators, now consider enhanced devolution as a prerequisite for both better LED and placemaking in general, and for reducing enduring spatial inequalities in particular. Although the pilots of Blair-Brown and of the Coalition government were never mainstreamed, they offer more than enough in positive results and potential to be prominent in any future case building for enhanced long-term devolution.

Whether an incoming next government and the civil service are seriously committed to Total Place principles remains an open question. But our Espresso Shot suggests we don’t need to reinvent the wheel – rather more adapt it with practical propositions drawing on the evidence from Total Place 1.0 and the Whole Place Community (and neighbourhood) Budget pilots. 


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