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Required reading over the holidays

Tony Travers
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Preparing for the summer holidays allows that greatest of luxuries: choosing what to read by the pool

Preparing for the summer holidays allows that greatest of luxuries: choosing what to read by the pool.

Just in case the local bookshop or Amazon have failed to come up with enough good books, Whitehall departments and official agencies have published a helpful array of documents to satisfy members and officers as they bask in the sunshine.

First came the Open Public Services white paper, with more than 50 pages explaining the government’s views on broadening the number of local providers and on how neighbourhoods, communities and parishes will have greater rights to challenge the provision of public services. A few days later, on 14 July, the Department of Health published an update on its Healthy lives, healthy people white paper proposals for public health.

Four days later, the second phase of the local government resource review hit the streets, including outline proposals about the details of business rate retention.

A day later, on 19 July, the Department for Education launched A Consultation on School Funding Reform: proposals for a fairer system, plus annexes, making proposals on a move towards a new schools’ funding formula.

Then, on the day before Parliament’s summer break, the National Audit Office published Formula Funding of Local Public Services, a review of the funding formulas used for local government, the NHS, schools and the police. The NAO concluded that the allocation of money to fund public services, notably councils, was often subject to ministerial judgment, lacked transparency and had unclear objectives.

Perhaps Stieg Larsson would be more exciting. However, once government gets under way again next month, it will be necessary to address the long-term question of how local public services are funded in England. In public health, in particular, it appears the pro-localist government is aiming for a centrally directed, ringfenced, incentive-driven funding arrangement that would have been the envy of New Labour in its heyday.

Decisions made about business rate retention and schools’ funding will affect councils and their residents for years. Even if no one regards Whitehall documents as holiday entertainment, they will be required reading once the holiday season is over.

Tony Travers, director, Greater London Group, London School of Economics

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