During this period of austerity, the Government has shown little appetite for radical ideas that seek to adapt and enable local authorities to survive increasing pressures.
So, within the parameters, the Chartered Institute for Public Finance and Accountancy (CIPFA) and the Local Government Association asked the Commission to recommend pragmatic solutions, that would not increase government spending but which would allow financial sustainability for public services. In this context, we are pleased that proposals have established a clear direction of travel that the Government should have the capacity to implement.
Within the review, one of the key recommendations made is that there should be an independent funding body. It would provide reassurance in the funding process between central and local government.
Within our manifesto we suggested a similar body under a different name – a grants commission. If it comes to fruition then we think it is paramount that it must exist in the long-term as a standing body which challenges funding allocations to ensure they can respond to local need and are adequate to fund the required activity.
As the Government edges closer to devolution, all authorities must be a part of this process. The Commission recommends that there should be pioneer areas that will be given additional devolved powers; however we feel these must represent a range of authorities, not just those who are already running similar models. Only by doing this we will be able to accurately evaluate the outcomes of these devolved powers.
If these recommendations were considered and adopted, then the climate of change could provide a unique opportunity for local authorities to go even further in restructuring.
The Commission’s report, although sharing realistic solutions, doesn’t examine how local public services could be restructured in the interests of financial sustainability. Within our manifesto we proposed other ideas, such as aligning services, to better achieve fiscal reform that would meet the needs of our communities.
Rob Whiteman is chief executive officer of the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy