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FINANCE - INFLUENCE FAR AND WIDE

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The current upheavals facing district councils are sure to impact on their 23 million population, says Gareth Moss...
The current upheavals facing district councils are sure to impact on their 23 million population, says Gareth Moss

The services provided by district councils are high on the agenda when the public is asked to consider what their council does for them. This is because services such as refuse collection and street sweeping, unlike education and social services, affect every member of the population.

Nationally, shire districts serve 23 million of England's 49.5 million population and one of the objectives of the Society of District Council Treasurers over the next year is to ensure the voice of districts, individually small but collectively powerful, is heard.

There is no shortage of challenges on the horizon. The impact of Sir Peter Gershon's efficiency review, and the ODPM's submission to it in particular, are likely to have a proportionately larger impact on districts.

This is not only due to their size but also many of the suggested savings affect district services.

Is this review something we should be concerned about, or welcome? Capacity is an issue for all districts, more so than for our colleagues in larger councils. We can't complain about initiative overload - a very real issue for us all - and then complain about something designed to assist with that capacity, if the result is that any resources released are re-invested into services, which consequently improve.

That provokes another concern. The large figures being bandied around suggest that the efficiencies which can be generated are substantial. If that is the case, then why have they not been delivered so far? Why have none of the inspectors' regimes identified them? Are we all quite so bad that we cannot deliver these? Or is it that the years of efficiency-driven budgets have left little if nothing to be squeezed from the district pot?

Districts are also getting to grips with comprehensive performance assessment and e-government. Although we understand why these initiatives exist, do they really contribute to be tter services on the street? Could they be a distraction for those of us who feel our job is to serve the public?

The common thread running through the society's membership is the need to keep district council issues on the national agenda. The government has stated on many occasions that its priorities are education and social services, and the pressures on these services are recognised and accepted.

What we must do, though, is ensure the 'liveability' agenda - largely reflected in the environmental, protective and cultural services block of the revenue support grant - is not lost, as this is the block which helps fund most district council services.

In spite of the successively poor rate support grant settlement for most districts, we must continue to fight our corner on behalf of those we serve, to enhance and develop the communities we live in.

Gareth Moss

Head of resource and financial management, East Staffordshire BC, and honorary secretary, Society of District Council Treasurers

The society of district council treasurers

The Society of District Council Treasurers was formed in 1974 and represents the original 320 districts in England and Wales, together with some of the unitaries.

The society's membership elects an executive annually to represent its views, respond to consultation and lobby for improvement. Each member of the executive takes a lead on a particular topic and is responsible, via the executive, to the membership.

Reporting to the membership is in the form of two meetings a year. However, the voluntary nature of the executive is currently seen as a barrier to effective lobbying, and members are to be consulted on a modest increase in fees to garner some permanent support and ensure there is a louder voice for all districts.

  • View LGCnet's mini-site dedicated to the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy's annual conference in Brighton here.
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