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Inside Out: Have we managed cuts without affecting services?

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Through staff goodwill, we keep the show on the road. But something has to give, says LGC’s Insider

In a week when it was confirmed local government spending fell by £10bn in 2011-12 - a whopping 6% - the LGA released survey results showing 70% of residents were satisfied with the way councils ran things in April. This was down only marginally (by 2%) from September 2012.

Have we managed the cuts without affecting services? We have done our best to protect frontline services, but the massive cuts we have faced - and continue to face - have had an effect. Perceptions always lag behind reality. The LGA survey has only been going for seven months. We will be doing less and I see no evidence of resident expectations reducing. It seems inevitable satisfaction will fall.

A bout of flu can lead to queues of unacceptable lengths at our front office as we no longer have the level of staff cover we once had

My staff are proud of what they do and constantly worry about the resilience of our services. In main, largely through staff goodwill, we keep the show on the road. But a bout of flu can lead to queues of unacceptable lengths at our front office as we no longer have the level of staff cover we once had. Maybe the detrimental effect of the cuts on services is reflected in the LGA survey results showing the proportion of residents believing their council offered value for money has dropped by 5 points to 51%.

Another factor keeping satisfaction up is universal services being out to long-term contracts that have a rigidity built into them. For example, most of us now have private contractors emptying our bins. It is hard to get further efficiency savings. The only way is to reduce the profits of contractors or reduce services. The former is a real danger and can lead to poor waste collection. The latter will be strongly resisted by residents.

Where does this leave us? We face further major cuts. Back office will be reduced even further. We will strip resilience out of our service. We will stop doing things and close facilities. Education and social care will continue to suck in the majority of our resources. Something has to give.

Perhaps if we could explain the reality through our ‘town hall Pravdas’ perceptions might change.

Find out more LGCplus.com/5022821.article or email LGCinsider@gmail.com

The one thing he won’t comment on is his identity…

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