NATIONAL AUDIT OFFICE

Don't hold your breath for immediate funding salvation

Like Liam Byrne’s 2010 note to his successor suggesting there was no money left, an incoming government will have little room for budgetary manoeuvre if it sticks to its declared fiscal rules, says Abdool Kara.

A ‘watershed' is an area of land that drains water into a larger water body, such as a lake or a river. Drainage often forks to send water to two or more different water bodies, hence the terminology of a ‘watershed' moment.

It is traditional in a January column to speculate on the year ahead – and for me, 2024 has the feeling of being a watershed year, on many fronts.

For example, the International Energy Agency recently suggested 2024 could be the year when energy from sustainable sources starts to displace fossil fuels. This year will also see around 70 countries hold national elections. Most won't have any great effect on us, but some surely will.

In Russia Putin's re-election is certain, while in the USA, Joe Biden's is less so.

In the UK we will have our own elections, with likely change in the air. Even if the Conservatives stay in power, a third or more of constituencies will have new MPs, either through the incumbent standing down (more than 80 declared already) or being replaced via the ballot box.

If the polls are right, there is the very real chance of a change of political control, whether to a new party or some form of coalition, not that a new government (of whatever colour) will have things easy.

Like Liam Byrne's 2010 note to his successor suggesting there was no money left, an incoming government will have little room for budgetary manoeuvre if it sticks to its declared fiscal rules. Anyone hoping for immediate funding salvation for the sector shouldn't hold their breath.

That isn't to say there aren't things the sector could and should be doing for itself. On that note, it should be a watershed year for the Local Government Association – with a new political leadership already ensconced and a new chief executive arriving to steer it into an unknown future full of challenges, certainly, but also full of opportunities.

If it is indeed to be a watershed year, my guess is most of the sector will embrace the possibilities with open arms. Happy 2024 everybody!

Abdool Kara is executive leader for local services at the National Audit Office

X – @NAOorguk

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