The government should expand its ‘community budgets’ programme to help councils avoid making deep cuts to services which boost economic growth.
This is the chief recommendation in a report for the local Government Association by Tony Travers, a professor at the London School of Economics.
His report, Local Government’s Role in Promoting Economic Growth, found that the council were making disproprionate cuts to services which support growth- like planning, housing and transport- because it was harder to reduced social care spending.
Prof Travers (pictured) said that if the Government wanted to both cut public spending and promote growth it would have to make increased use of pooled public sector budgets.
“Until now there has been little willingness in much of Whitehall for any comprehensive approach to merging budgets and co-investing in new ways of delivering public services at the local level,” he noted.
But he said there was a “strong evidence-based case” for closely aligning the budgets and delivery of council services such as education, health and fire services, as demonstrated by community budgets pilots in Greater Manchester, Essex, Cheshire West & Chester and the ‘Triborough’ area of west London.
“If budgets could be fully aligned and jointly planned, then the whole place pilots have shown that substantial savings could be made,” Prof Travers said.
Local government would be “well placed to act as the lead agency in delivering administrative and procurement improvements across the NHS, schools, benefits, the police, fire and, of course, its own provision”, he added.
LGA chair Sir Merrick Cockell (Con) said reforms to encourage local economic growth had been “laudable but haphazard…throwing up unintended consequences and the direction of travel seems unclear”.
He added: “Sometimes it appears as if government departments are each dancing to their own tune, creating policies without speaking to one another or considering the broader consequences.”
It was “a frustrating irony that cutting local government funding undermines the chances of the swift economic recovery which would in turn help shore-up funding for local services”, Sir Merrick said.