The new £2.6bn efficiency targets set out in the pre-Budget report have a distinct back-of-an-envelope feel. Except the envelope has been discarded, leaving us to guess the workings.
Given the scale of the sums, the importance of public sector spending and the significant hurdles to achieving savings, the lack of detail is grave.
There has been scant consultation with local government. The result is that the £1.8bn of back-office savings expected by 2011-12 appears to be based on the assumption that councils could replicate an as yet unmet target for 2010-11 - with no reference to the present experiences or the fact that additional savings are harder than the obvious first-wave cuts.
The time-lag between identifying and realising savings was apparently disregarded altogether.
Now, more than ever, local government needs a strong, assertive voice
Emma Maier, editor of LGC
The failure to work with local government also sends worrying messages about how Westminster perceives councils, belying the commitment to localism. Under a Conservative government the problem could be intensified.
Shadow chief secretary to the Treasury Philip Hammond has already admitted that his party would start unashamedly centralist to reduce costs, while new calculations from the Institute for Fiscal Studies suggest the Conservatives would need to cut or raise up to £21.4bn to match Labour’s spending while protecting health and overseas aid budgets.
Now, more than ever, local government needs a strong, assertive voice.