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MPs claim service costs are hidden...
MPs claim service costs are hidden

By Mark Smulian

Councils could be 'camouflaging' service cuts as efficiency savings under the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister's nose, MPs have warned.

The parliamentary committee that monitors the ODPM has said government scrutiny of councils is so weak that authorities might be 'labelling changes in internal priorities as efficiency savings when they are nothing of the kind' to hit their efficiency targets.

It has called for the ODPM to work more closely with councils and the Audit Commission to check whether efficiency savings are genuine. Councils collectively must save£6.45bn in the three years to 2008 under the Gershon efficiency process.

The committee's probe of the ODPM's annual report complained about 'complacency in relation to the scrutiny of local authority efficiency savings'.

Its report says: 'We are not satisfied with the audit process. If the scrutiny and support for local authorities is inadequate, authorities under pressure may be tempted to reduce services rather than striving for ever greater improvements in efficiency.'

The MPs also voiced alarm that efficiency savings may be used to conceal service cuts, particularly in adult social care. They urged the ODPM to investigate whether councils were raising thresholds for entitlement to adult social services in an effort to hold down spending.

'Although we have been repeatedly reassured that efficiency savings are to be achieved without an impact on delivery, we are concerned about the potential impact on adult social services and homelessness,' they said.

The committee was also withering about the ODPM's ability to lead the sustainable communities programme, pointing out that 43% of external partners thought this was poorly connected to the rest of government. They said: 'We remain to be convinced the [ODPM] will be able to ensure the co-ordinated action needed to meet its goals.'

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