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Regional spending under the microscope

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It is often argued, not least by London’s elected mayor Boris Johnson, that the capital needs additional public investment because its economic strength drives the recovery now appearing fitfully across the country.

It is also often argued by northern councils that they lose out on funds. Rural authorities, too, have lobbied for greater understanding of the funding pressures they face.

In truth, all have been hit hard by spending cuts, although Alison Scott, assistant director for local government finance and policy at the Chartered Institute of Public Finance & Accountancy, argues that all governments tend to favour their support base and that deprived areas have done disproportionately worse than others in recent years.

But beyond the debate about overall funding for different regions and types of authority, recent Cipfa data reveals significant variations in the way in which these regions have implemented cuts.

REGIONAL % CHANGE IN PUBLIC SERVICE EXPENDITURE 2013-14 TO 2014-15
South-east exluding London↓3.1
Greater London↓3.6
East of England↓2.9
East Midlands↓4.1
North-east↓5.0
North-west↓1.8
South-west↓2.6
West Midlands↓2.9
Yorkshire & the Humber↓3.1

 

Planning saw the greatest swings: council funding for the service rose by 20% in London this year, but fell by 16% in the south-west. Richard Blyth, head of policy at the Royal TownPlanning Institute, suggests regional variations may be down to places with city regions ploughing more into development.

Spending on housing rose by 11% in the East Midlands, but fell by 15% in the West Midlands, while spending on highways and transport fell much more steeply in London – which saw an 11% drop – than in the north-east where it fell just 1.3%.

Children’s social care expenditure, which rose in every region, is the most consistent area of spending. It rose by 16% on average, although the south-east surpassed this with a rise of 22%. The lowest increase, at 12%, was in the south-west.

As the experts from these sectors explain in this special feature, some of the regional variations could be down to the different ways in which data is recorded. Others, as Ian Thomas, chair of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services resources and sustainability policy committee, explains were down to the different choices councils made about how best to meet their residents’ needs on a rapidly diminishing budget.

Cipfa’s figures also reveal significant differences in overall per-head expenditure. Londoners enjoy £2,299 each of spending on local authority, police and fire services. The next regions are the north-west on £1,877 and the north-east on £1,858. To find the lowest spending per head, one must look to the south-west, the East Midlands and the east.

TOTAL SERVICE EXPENDITURE, ENGLAND
 2014-15 (£m)Change 2013-13 to 2014-15 (%)2014-15 (£/head)
Education35,835↓7.6665
Highways & transport4,814↓6.285
Children’s social care7,726↑16.4143
Adult social care14,364↓2.0267
Housing1,933↓7.836
Cultural & related2,614↓6.349
Environmental & regulatory5,139↓2.995
Planning & development1,276↑0.924
Police11,121↓0.4206
Fire2,123↓2.439
Central/corporate3,271↓0.561
Other470↓14.79
Public Healh2,849↑5.553
Total93,534↓3.11,736
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