Laura Sharman 04 December 2014

Public services still ‘at risk’ following Autumn Statement

The chancellor’s Autumn Statement failed to show how public services can continue to be delivered under ongoing budget reductions, according to many local government experts.

In the wake of yesterday’s announcement, concerns have been raised about the lack of a long-term public service reform plan.

Graeme McDonald, the director of the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives and Senior Managers (Solace), said the announcement was a reminder of the ‘formidable’ challenge facing public services.

He said: ‘Local Government finance shouldn’t be reviewed in isolation, on a piecemeal, income stream by income stream, basis. Similarly, changes to stamp duty are not a substitute for the long overdue reappraisal of council tax.

'Avoiding a strategic system-wide review is precisely what has led to the current financial system being untenable. Government must understand the impact and start to listen.

‘Such a challenge needs to be met head on and with a long term plan of public service reform, not just one reacting to cyclical deficits.’

The Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy (CIPFA) also said the autumn statement contained little recognition of the long-term challenges facing local government.

Chief executive, Rob Whiteman, said: ‘When you add in the impact of the ring-fencing of some budgets, such as the NHS and the protection of pensioners, the significance of the cuts still to come for other areas of public spending could damage their ability to deliver.

‘However, today’s statement contained little recognition of this and no explanation from the Government about how public services will continue under such long-term pressures.’

Meanwhile council leaders expressed relief local government had been spared further cuts.

Chair of the Local Government Association (LGA), Cllr David Sparks said: ‘The chancellor has confirmed that local services will not face additional cuts next year, on top of those already announced. In doing so, government has acknowledged the huge contribution councils have already made to balancing the country’s books, and the fragile financial position in which this has placed many local authorities.’

However, the LGA said it was disappointed by the lack of commitment to devolution in England.

‘The Government has promised new devolved powers for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland but has failed to deliver for England. All parts of the country – from big cities to non-metropolitan areas – need greater freedom from Whitehall,’ added Cllr Sparks.

‘England can no longer afford for this to be a pilot project. For some areas, it’s now devolution or bust.’

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