The Local Government Association has warned today of the likely effects of announced cuts up to 2016 in non-statutory services such as museums, as well trimming mainstream budgets such as reduced street lighting after midnight.
The government, in response, has dismissed the claims as alarmist and said that local government should become more efficient, with better procurement given as an example. Really.
A bolder response by the government would be to put its money where its mouth has been on Localism. What the LGA are calling for is an end to ring-fenced budgets from central government to local government, from Whitehall to Town Hall. This is because the bulk of local government spending is in the two areas of education and social care. Councils are a people business through-and-through. But the Department of Health runs social care, and the Department of Education runs schools, and both treat local authorities merely as their local agents.
This enforced local compartmentalism causes difficulties, inefficiencies, and at times outright failures. How can troubled families be genuinely helped if some departments in Whitehall instruct ‘their’ funds not to engage?
What today’s response sadly shows is that, despite talk of Localism, the weak position of local government generally is reflected in Whitehall with the weakness of its sponsoring department for communities and local government. Sadly DCLG hasn’t the political power it needs to face down Health, Education, nor the Home Office on unpicking their ring-fenced budgets.