Communities secretary Eric Pickles has told MPs he is happy to offer councils “a degree of guided localism” after urging them not to cut services funded by the Supporting People grant.
Mr Pickles and housing minister Grant Shapps told the Communities & Local Government select committee that councils should not be cutting front-line services because “no authority in the country” had taken all the measures to maximise back-office efficiencies.
“It will be a very brave local authority that cuts Supporting People and protects the centre [the council’s management],” said Mr Pickles. He added he was “quite happy to offer a degree of guided localism.”
Mr Pickles did not elaborate as to what “guided localism” involved but the Supporting People grant was rolled into formula grant as part of the settlement.
The former Conservative chairman said “most sensible authorities” would conclude that £1 spent on Supporting People was probably going to save them around £5 or £6 in the long run.
Mr Shapps said that cutting services that would have funded by the Supporting People grant was: “completely against everything that we would expect to see”.
Mr Pickles and Mr Shapps were answering questions about the local government finance settlement, of which the front-loading was seen as one of the more contentious issues. The ministers said the settlement had been profiled in such as fashion in order to encourage councils to restructure rather than simply “salami slice” services.
Mr Pickles said: “The amount of front-loading [in the settlement] is very important to encourage local government to deal with the question of restructuring.”
He added that it was important local government restructured both its administration and its services and avoided simply “salami slicing” services, which he said was “the road to nowhere”.
He also told the MPs councils had been given plenty of warning about the cuts and it would “be negligent to the point of stupidity if you were in local government and [had] not been expecting cuts of this magnitude”.
Mr Shapps told the committee “there is not a single local authority in the country” which had carried out all the back-office saving function methods, such as merging legal, HR, planning departments and sharing senior teams, and only when councils were doing all this, should they consider front-line cuts.
Mr Shapps also stoked his war of words with Local Government Association Liberal Democrat leader Richard Kemp, raising questions around the transparency of Cllr Kemp’s remuneration from his range of public service rolls.
“[Cllr Kemp] has a whole range of different local authority interests from his position on the LGA, to the local authority and housing association and many other things,” said Mr Shapps. “It is not entirely clear and transparent just how much public subsidy is going into his own operation.”