Local authorities should do more to evidence the impact of budget cuts on services and ‘push it in the face’ of central government, the head of the National Audit Office has told council chief executives.
Sir Amyas Morse said it was in the interests of local government to do the impact assessments as he “wouldn’t put your money” on central government doing it for them.
The NAO’s comptroller and auditor general told delegates at the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives & Senior Managers in Bournemouth: “If you want to find out about this stuff and want them to know about it you have got to push it in their face.”
Sir Amyas added: “I know you’ve got resource pressures but don’t be shy about speaking assertively about how you define what your role should be in the future. It’s not like somebody knows better than you do.”
The NAO previously published figures which showed funding to local government had reduced by 37% between 2010-11 and 2015-16. Sir Amyas warned “probably rather large reductions” would be forthcoming in future years too.
He said: “It’s important for you to communicate strongly about how sustainable the statutory services you are being asked to carry out are, given the funding you have available.
“You have to communicate with clear evidence, consistent measurements. Don’t put yourself in a position where it’s too difficult, it’s blurry and people can’t tell what’s going on.”
Accountability is a “two-way street”, said Sir Amyas and added he thought local government could be “more aggressive” about how it holds central government to account.
Sir Amyas said devolution presented a “very exhilarating prospect” but warned councils to “bargain toughly” with central government as they would be taking on new “burdens”.
“You need to stand quite toughly to say we are being asked to deliver part of what the citizens expect and we are entitled to be properly resourced to do it,” he said.