There are 17 item(s) tagged with the keyword "local government finance".
Local government is compelled to focus on the immediate problems staring it in the face, the impact of the cuts of the last decade can’t be forgotten. However, longer-term issues that require investment need to also be considered before they creep up and get past the point where they are resolvable.
Looking at revenue firstly, the announcements in the Comprehensive Spending Review were welcomed, £4.8B additional grant over 3 years plus the ability to raise a further £3.7B through council tax and precepts over the period. However, looking at the pressures on the sector with rising demand, inflation, pay increases and the impact of the national insurance rise then in reality this probably equates to at best a standstill position.
APSE’s Local Government Commission 2030 called for a longer-term settlement whilst fair funding was addressed, immediate moves to tackle the social care funding crisis, an end to competitive bidding pots and reform of business rates. Progress is being made but we all know that it hasn’t gone far enough, or fast enough, to resolve the systemic problems of finance, and it remains unclear as to whether fair funding will ever be reviewed!
It may have taken sometime but at last the UK Government has revealed its Net Zero strategy to cut the country’s carbon emissions by 78% by 2035 and to net zero by 2050. In the lead up to COP26 it will give Ministers the opportunity to portray the UK as one of the leading lights when it comes to tackling climate change, but when the dust settles, after the flurry of announcements, will the plan add up or will it fall short?
Much of what has been announced is welcome but it still leaves a number of unanswered questions, as to how the programme will be funded and a concern that yet again local government’s ability to play a key role in delivering such an important policy agenda, has been underplayed.
Whilst the strategy recognises that local government has a key role to play, its not clear as to what Government thinks this role is. What additional powers councils will receive! And, most importantly, whether any additional funding will come through the system to support delivery on the ground.
Connecting the route map to that outlined by the UK Committee on Climate Change, in its sixth carbon budget, is most definitely the correct approach to take - something that we at APSE have argued for over the past few years. Many councils have already forged ahead and focused their own strategies to meet their net zero declarations using this methodology, so perhaps we are really starting to see the beginning of some much needed joined up thinking at a national and local policy level.
Local government faces a triumvirate of hugely important announcements in the coming months which will have major ramifications for its role, responsibilities and resources in the short, mid and long term.
By the end of October, the Chancellor should have announced the findings of a three-year Comprehensive Spending Review, setting out the UK’s priorities for public spending. At present spending departments are submitting proposals to Treasury as to how they intend to tackle a raft of public policy conundrums as well as deliver public services over the period to meet need. Treasury’s role is to identify synergy across Government priorities to maximise the spending of limited resources.
Concern remains for local government over the potential focus on headline capturing capital announcements while the revenue that so many of the frontline services rely on continues to deteriorate. For councils, the pressure also continues to build on covid recovery, reshaping our high streets, digital transformation, the care economy and the housing crisis, to name just a few headaches.
For those of you dusting down your action plan responding to climate emergency declarations, following a pause to focus on all things Covid-19, you must have been heartened to hear the fanfare announcing the Prime Ministers ‘Green Industrial Revolution’, but when the noise died down what does it all mean for local government.
In APSE, we have always recognised that if Government wish to meet national targets around carbon neutrality and councils have declared challenging measures locally, then both will be mutually dependent on each other to make significant progress. From wider work we are engaged in this is not only a fact recognised by the Committee on Climate Change but also by the general public in the opinion polling we undertake through Survation.
It is understandable that the Prime Ministers plan has a major focus on job creation, giving a nod to many areas of the country who may benefit from green investment, as part of the levelling up agenda. One criticism would be the scale of the ambition shown, with many calling for much greater levels of spend. A wider package of £12B is welcome but even with the claim that this will stimulate three times as much again, as a contribution from the private sector, it still only takes this to half of the current spend on HS2.
As we await the recovery and devolution white paper from Government, it will be interesting to see if the summer speeches from ministers that invariably promised ‘putting an empowered local government at the heart of the economic recovery’, will be borne out in reality.
Successive governments have denuded local authorities of powers, finance and resources; stripping the sector back to an emaciated shadow of its former self. If ministers really want councils to play a key role in the recovery of the nation then we need to see more than warm words, we need to see a full-blown rehabilitation of local government in the national psyche.
To do this there needs to be proper recognition of the role of the local authority as the undisputed leader of place, the key actor in helping to deliver a better tomorrow for local communities. When we take the issue of planning for example – a responsibility that is fundamental to driving better outcomes for local people - powers need to be restored not reduced. How can you steer and stimulate a local economy or transform town centres at the very heart of local place if there is continual deregulation of your planning powers?
The upcoming comprehensive spending review represents a great opportunity for ministers.
COVID – 19 has had a polarising effect on society, organisations and individuals within them, in so many ways. At one extreme we have people who want to argue that staff and services should all shift today into cyberspace, never to have human contact ever again, whilst at the other we have those who believe that this sort of leap of blind faith will lead to the biggest waste of time, resources and effort since preparations for the millennium bug. The answer of course probably sits somewhere in between.
Faced with the prospect of a potential return to mass unemployment in the coming months and with fewer resources than ever, local councils are going to have some major decisions to make to prioritise what little they have available, to ensure better outcomes for local communities.
A hugely important invest to save opportunity that delivers on so many cross-cutting issues is to give some renewed focus to tackling the climate emergency, whilst attempting to build back better and create a sustainable local economic recovery. There are a number of ways we can do this which create significant numbers of jobs, including apprenticeships, boost local supply chains and deliver significant energy savings, whilst alleviating fuel poverty for many.
It is inarguable that the last decade in local government was tough financially. Every public policy initiative, every council budget was seemingly dominated by relentless austerity. That has not gone away. However, with climate emergency declarations by local councils now standing at 65% coverage across the UK it would appear that this, not austerity, is our zeitgeist for the next decade.
Declaring an emergency is only a statement of intent; a recognition that urgent action is needed. Some have found that their passionate pledges in the council chamber can give birth to a much starker reality. Action on climate change is devoid of quick fixes. As a first step councils need to establish what is within the scope of their declaration. Is this just about decarbonising councils’ services or is it broader? Looking at supply chains or sub-regional economies? And what pledges can be made about those areas where the council is not simply the sole-trader such as municipal airports or transport infrastructure which invokes national agencies? When we start to peel back the covers issues may seem insurmountable. But this is not the case if action is properly planned.
The country recently elected a new parliament to Westminster, so what will the public want to see at the top of ministerial in-trays?
It’s very timely that Survation has just completed APSE’s annual polling of public opinion on local government services. What it finds is that satisfaction with services is starting to drop and people are noticing a decline in their locality. They are also saying they want to see more of the tax that they pay given to councils to spend in their local area.
If the new Government want to demonstrate that the decade associated with austerity has passed then the public clearly want to see visible improvements across their neighbourhood services. This means investment across everything from public realm to affordable housing. Social care also remains important in public opinion but this is balanced against these wider priorities.
A consistent trend is that trust is continuously increasing in councils and councillors to get decisions correct about their local area and to deliver services directly to local people.
The prevailing issue that has exercised the minds of those in local government for the last decade has been dealing with the impact of austerity. Whilst rumours of its demise may be somewhat premature it is likely to be overtaken by something that may have an even more fundamentally profound impact on councils, dominating almost every decision they make over the next decade – that of climate change.
Whilst many councils are alert to this agenda, with dozens declaring climate change emergencies, particularly in response to high profile public protests by young people, it is easy to move the date you expect to be carbon neutral forwards by ten years or so, but unless you focus on deliverables then achieving such aspirations could prove to be difficult in practice. The clock is ticking. There is an urgent need to move beyond strategising and rhetoric to making significant progress.
For those MJ readers of a certain age they will no doubt remember the magical world of Mr Benn; as a spaceman, a zookeeper, a cook or a diver. The adventures were always captivating and of course he received his souvenir medal once he returned through the changing room at the fancy-dress shop where his adventures commenced from. Now you may of course be wondering what Mr Benn’s has to do with local government? Well the current crop of chief officers, those who report directly to chief executives, often find themselves in a Mr Benn like world.
Local government was once a place of Weberian style municipal discipline; clearly defined roles and with that silo working, along delineated professional functions. Planners did planning. Engineers did Highways. Mr Benn would have stayed bedecked in his bowler hat! Today’s local authority chief officers, not only look different from that bygone era but are increasingly working under different guises; changing costumes to suit the adventures of the day.