Central government has pursued improved social policy coordination at local as well as national levels of administration. While seeking to inject a more comprehensive approach into its own practice, the centre has also encouraged local agencies to cooperate in service planning and delivery. Consequently, our research at the national level was complemented by studies of interagency relationships in seven selected localities and as they affected policies for elderly people and children under five. This element of our fieldwork had the general objective of seeking to define the nature, extent and ‘productiveness’ of such relationships in a range of different contexts. Thus the approach adopted was to take three ‘cuts’ across local experiences of coordination: by locality, by client group and by policy ‘arenas’.
Three such arenas were identified: the local authority (or corporate) arena; the health and local authority (or collaborative) arena; and the statutory/non-statutory (or inter-sector) arena. Each arena was found to be characterised by largely discrete formal arrangements for multi-agency planning. In this respect (and in the first two arenas, especially), they reflected the impact of successive national initiatives to strengthen local capacities for coordinated planning through approaches founded on the ‘optimistic’ tradition. In this sense in particular, therefore, the local studies were designed to be complementary to that of the JASP exercise at the centre. In addition they allowed us to consider whether social policy coordination had become more firmly established locally or nationally and, thus, whether the centre had been less successful in putting its own house in order than in encouraging local agencies to do so.