While a number of today’s announcements will be welcomed in local government, measures such as the ability to retain 100% of asset sales and the ability to raise a 2% council tax precept for social care do not make local services sustainable in the long term.
Without more fundamental change to how local services are paid for and provided, the support individuals and communities receive in many areas will be drastically curtailed.
Ground breaking devolution deals and greater integration across services such as health and social care are beginning to address some of the systemic problems. The additional 0.5% of spending on social care enabled by the 2% precept will also provide some relief. But Local Government will still be making savings of many billions of pounds and the impact of individual council’s will vary greatly with the more deprived suffering most. The degree of challenge that this will represent should not be underestimated
During the last Parliament, the National Audit Office concluded Government cuts have had a differential impact. The effect of the imbalance will only worsen as Government cuts its contribution by over 50% without addressing distribution.
Councils are finding new ways to deliver for residents as a convenor of valued local services such as care for the vulnerable elderly and children, and the delivery of new affordable housing. The detailed announcements over the next few weeks need to be both fairer to all and include the tools that enable councils and their communities to help themselves. This should include:
1. A complete review of council tax to accompany the radical overall of business rates and its appeal system
2. Councils given more certainty about their long term funding arrangements, including multi-year financial settlements and the power to make local financial decisions to enable councils to be more self-sufficient
3. Significant steps towards ‘place-based’ budgets across all local public services to help remove the disincentives to work collectively