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FRONT LINE FIRST - FINANCE

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The revenue support grant industry is in top gear at the moment. Forests of papers are being produced. Meetings, of...
The revenue support grant industry is in top gear at the moment. Forests of papers are being produced. Meetings, often lasting all day, follow in rapid succession. The working group reports are due soon and a consultation paper is promised for the summer.

Given all this energy and activity, it is surprising how little councils can glean of what is going to happen to their grant.

The education review has been going the longest and has the widest range of consultees involved. The overall structure of the education formula is clear in principle, but so it was over a year ago. We believe the civil servants have a detailed model, but it is being kept secret at present.

Other areas are struggling to get their options to market in time for the reports. It is clear there will be a change to the area cost adjustment. Some general labour-market approach, based on the Elliott report, now seems favourite for most areas.

There appears to be consensus that the environmental, protective and cultural services block must change. Apart from some minor adjustments, the main change that will affect social services is the removal of£450m because from April 2003 the NHS will pay for the nursing care currently provided by councils.

Will authorities be able to plan for the next three years once the consultation report and spending review 2002 are published? Well, no. Ministers apparently think it would be too controversial to consult on the level of grant that local authorities might actually receive in 2003/4.

The brave new fair system will spring, fully formed, from civil servants' computers at the end of November. Only then will half the authorities realise that they have lost, and the other half that they have gained less than they expected. That should see it off to a good start.

Stephen Hughes

Finance director, Brent LBC

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