The view from local government
Local government has borne the brunt of the government spending cuts this year and the prospect looks even bleaker next year as the front loaded cuts continue to bite, in many cases even deeper.
So the Local Government Chronicle quarterly survey of local authority directors and chief executives is a particularly useful snapshot of how public service providers are coping with government-imposed austerity.
The latest survey (see LGC 10/11/11) has some telling results, with three key themes particularly apparent.
Firstly, services targeted at the most vulnerable are those that have suffered the greatest impact in the last 12 months. Confidence that local authorities will be able to deliver corporate aims in the coming year remains worryingly low across all service areas. But there’s large variation. Of the identified service areas, only waste broke the 50% mark. Around a third were confident that street cleaning, licensing, planning and cemeteries and crematoriums were safe. Significantly adult social care, housing, homelessness and economic development all registered below 10%.
Secondly, fears that the brave new localist dawn will overtaken by councils’ urgent need to cope with cuts are well founded. The “dominant themes” for the next 12 months were all issues directly related to cuts and restructuring. The three most dominant were making spending cuts (95%), reducing workforce (69%) and alternative service delivery (46%), the last of these being a polite term for outsourcing. Languishing far behind were housing (16%), big society (12%), public health (18%), school building (4%) and the green agenda (3%).
Thirdly, unsurprisingly, pessimism over the economy is increasing. Confidence that the economy will be better in a year has fallen from +28 prior to the general election to -85. Net confidence of avoiding a double-dip recession has fallen from -44 before the election to -83 today.