Council taxpayers will be intolerant if told front lines services are being cut back when their local authority hasn’t made every effort to be as efficient as possible, Communities Secretary John Denham warned today.
In a keynote speech to New Local Government Network (NLGN), Mr Denham said that council taxpayers will not stand for anything less than the leanest operation – especially if it starts to impact on the quality of services or the cost of council tax.
Mr Denham pointed to the Total Place approach to more cost-effective service delivery which has the potential to save millions of public money in a tighter financial climate - by bringing together all public spending in an area to deliver better value for money, reduce duplication and improve efficiency. 13 areas are piloting the approach and have already identified significant cost savings. For example:
• Birmingham has found that for every pound spent on early years work, they could save four pounds on the costs of anti-social behaviour and severe health problems. And that for every pound spent on drug treatment, they could save £9 in the criminal justice system;
• Bournemouth, Poole and Dorset believe they can save £12 million by refocusing resources from acute care for older people to supporting them to live at home and thereby reducing hospital admissions by some 15 %;
• Bradford has found that much of the assessment done of prisoners is for administrative purposes: in fact, only around half was for statutory or duty of care purposes. One prisoner described this as being 'assessed to death but helped very little';
• Central Bedfordshire and Luton believe that by having a ‘Total Place’ approach to assessing prisoners on release, which includes, for example, what benefits they could receive: they could not only save 40 % on administrative costs, but also make sure that offenders are able to access those benefits more quickly: reducing the risk of re-offending;
• Other pilots are showing how the slimmer and more effective approach to assessment could be more widely applied: for example, to adults with drug and alcohol problems.
Mr Denham today also confirmed commitments set out in Smarter Government and the pre-budget report to give councils the freedom and flexibilities to rise to this challenge.
• Scrutiny powers for councils will be extended to exercise greater influence over all the spending in their area in line with the Total Place approach;
• The Bullock/Leese taskforce has been asked to identify how local authorities can make efficiency savings while protecting front line services;
• Councils will take on a central role in driving local action to tackle climate change – a series of announcements over the coming weeks will set out the practical steps to enable this.
John Denham said:
“Local people will rightly be intolerant if they are told that front line services will be cut when their council hasn’t taken tough decisions to introduce shared services, sharing senior staff with other local authorities, PCTs or other bidders, or through making the best use of public buildings.
“It is clear that council tax payers will not stand for anything less than the leanest possible operation – especially if that starts to impact on the quality of services or the cost of council tax.
“However, there is a clear warning here for councils. Running the most effective and efficient operation is not the same as conducting a crude cost cutting exercise that sacrifices all notions of standards.
“A much tighter financial climate should not lead to the pessimistic conclusion that public services will inevitably get worse. Of course money is going to be tight. But that is no reason for lowering our sights.
“It simply makes it more important that we make the right choices, and concentrate our efforts where they can have greatest impact.
“If we want to, we can still ensure everyone has a decent place to live. If we want to, we can continue to tackle inequality and deprivation. If we want to, we can rise to the challenge of climate change.
“All these issues require leadership and determination not just from central government, but from local government."
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