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LGC View - Spending round 2015-16

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Local government has and will continue to face massive cuts. Services such as adults’ and children’s social care will be - relatively and understandably - protected while services such as libraries, road maintenance, planning and street cleaning have and will suffer the consequences. This was exactly the scenario set out in stark terms in the LGA’s funding outlook, published last year.

In response to the magnitude of those cuts, local government - and many in central government - have been arguing for radical reform and devolution of public services. Community budgets, city deals and now local growth deals all encapsulate this ideal: local decisions and place-based joint working could help to take the bite out of past and future funding reductions.

But that devolution has to be sincere and real, and rumours of departmental resistance to the single pot of economic growth funding and snail’s pace progress on aspects of community budgets can undermine confidence in the rhetoric.

In recent weeks LGC commentators such as Haringey LBC leader Claire Kober (Lab) and London Councils’ head of fair funding Hugh Grover have expressed concern about possible cost and risk shunting, from central to local government.

It is irrelevant whether that shunt is unintended: for example cutting central government welfare bills but risking a rise in local homelessness costs; or deliberate: the localisation and capping of council tax support regardless of need. What is important is that it is not the kind of devolution that will help the public sector cope with this level of cuts.

Ruth Keeling, chief reporter

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