While many eyes fix on this month’s emergency budget, the local government lobby is looking further forward to the autumn spending review.
As a more comprehensive re-think and revamp of the nation’s finances, the review, by its nature, is likely to provide a greater opportunity for authorities to influence Treasury’s plans.
The Local Government Association and the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives and Senior Managers have both made weighty submission to the review.
And councils leader have their own ideas for reform too.
According to Paul Martin, chief executive of Wandsworth LBC and Solace spokesperson for local government finance said the review is a “good” opportunity to press for some fundamental changes.
“There has to be some review of local authority finance” he adds. “This is something widely discussed for such a long time in local government.
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“We want to see a fundamental look at council tax and other revenue raising powers and this seems to be a good time to do this. There is a new government and we have the certainty of a five-year period ahead of us.”
Mr Martin said he would also like a review of the administrative and legal red tape that is hampering efforts to reform services and cut costs, according to Mr Martin. “Most councils with ambitious programmes for change have faced restraints because of legislation and regulation,” he adds. “We need a review of all those constraints so that councils can be as lean and efficient as we can be.”
Several leaders agree with Solace’s wish for an overhaul of council funding.
Alan Waters (Lab), leader of Norwich City Council, says he sees local government finance as “built on unstable pillars”.
“It’s now too dependent on the vagaries of local economic factors –such as community infrastructure levy, localised business rate retention, new homes bonus,” he adds.
The spending review, Cllr Waters adds, should introduce “three-year funding settlements” which provide a “strong indication at the end of year two of the resources available to councils for the following three”.
The need for a longer-term funding for authorities was also raised by Steve Jordan, the Liberal Democrat leader of Cheltenham Borough Council.
Longer settlements would “ideally cover the current Parliament”, he added. “So we can have certainty on funding to allow proper planning.”
Reform of council tax is also on Cllr Jordan’s wish list for reform. Any shake-up should give authorities “more local discretion over setting the level of council tax,” he says.
Sir Richard Leese (Lab), leader of Manchester City Council, wants the spending review to secure “full funding of social care” and for the government to establish a “timetable for the next stages of fiscal devolution in England”.
Similar requests on funding, devolution and reform are made in the LGA’s submission to the spending review, A shared commitment: local government and the spending review, which the association published this week (see overleaf).
This wide-ranging document calls for changes to business rates, council tax and for a major extension of the ‘Better Care Fund’, which seeks to integrate councils’ social services with NHS care.
Under the LGA’s proposals, the pooled fund would be boosted with NHS resources, which currently pay for long-term care in the health service.
Other priorities for the spending review for council leaders were transport and children’s services.
Nick Forbes, the Labour leader of Newcastle City Council said he wanted to see “properly funded concessionary travel,” while Hounslow’s Labour leader Steve Curran raised the need for extra childcare funding.
“The increased offer of 30 hours of free childcare for three and four year olds will offer huge challenges to all local authorities,” he added. “The cost of childcare for under-fives in London is 28% higher than in other regions. Central government funding does not reflect this.”
Such a wide range of requests will no doubt join a flood of submissions from many other quarters of the public and private sector in the run up to the autumn.
It will be up to local authorities to keep their wish lists in the forefront of ministers’ minds in the months leading up to the review.