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DON'T FENCE US IN, WARNS LGA

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Fear is growing at the Local Government Association that big increases in public spending to be announced by minist...
Fear is growing at the Local Government Association that big increases in public spending to be announced by ministers in the summer will be ring-fenced.

Pundits extrapolating figures published with the Budget suggest spending in the last year of the next comprehensive spending review, in 2003-04, will be around£28bn higher than this year. The figure excludes the additional£13bn already announced for health. Chancellor Gordon Brown is expected to reveal the totals with the comprehensive spending review in July.

Services with council involvement, such as education and transport, have been highlighted as key priorities as ministers try to regain the political initiative.

Education, social services, library services, trading standards and recycling and waste management have all been the subject of high-profile ministerial statements in recent months accepting the need for higher spending.

But LGA communications director Phil Swann said those ministerial pronouncements are among the worrying signals that local discretion on spending the new money will be heavily circumscribed.

'There is a growing list of areas where the government recognises the need for extra money, but in each case ministers are keen to ensure that money is ring-fenced for the services they favour,' he said.

'Our concern is that given the local government finance initiatives as a whole and the strong argument for ring-fencing being made [by ministers], it is not a huge leap of speculation to see that suddenly becoming a requirement.'

He said ministers had already spoken in public about ring-fencing in education, health and trading standards 'and the rest are queuing up like airplanes at Heathrow'.

This week's National Association of Head Teachers conference saw the battle over front-line first funding heat up. NAHT general secretary David Hart called for greater delegation of funding to schools and accused many councils of undue interference.

The CSR is also expected to confirm a radical overhaul of public service agreements -the contracts concluded between spending ministers and the Treasury before extra cash is released.

The Treasury denied any reduction in the number of indicators used would amount to an admission of overprescription. 'This has nothing to do with reducing the targets. It is about making them more focused and meaningful for managers and developers of public services,' it said.

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