Cllr Philippa Roe is the Leader of Westminster City Council
Today, the chancellor will deliver his Autumn Statement – it is no secret that Local Government will be a key area that is required to make savings and become ever more efficient and streamlined.
But this is not something we should be fearful of. The Prime Minister and the Chancellor are holding their nerve – so should we. Austerity is going to be here for another ten years, yet our residents depend on us for hundreds of services, so we need to start saying ‘we will’, rather than ‘we can’t’.
So what do we, as local authority leaders, want from the chancellor in this statement? The answer is simple: a new deal between Whitehall and local places to tackle the biggest national issues – jobs for young people, homes for hardworking families and affordable care in later life.
This new deal should be based on two key principles:
- Financial certainty for all local public services across a place
- Shared risk and reward for tackling the issues that matter most to our residents
- This way, we can work as one to deliver savings and improved services across every aspect of local life. We can help older people live independent lives for longer working with CCGs and local hospitals, get re-offenders back on track by working with the Police and Prisons, and turn the lives of troubled families around working with the Work Programme, Jobcentre Plus and schools.
In between the energy deals and cuts in business rates, we understand that the chancellor will be outlining how community budgets can be extended, improved and implemented across the UK. We welcome that, because the statistics speak for themselves.
Across the Tri-borough area, with Kensington and Chelsea and Hammersmith and Fulham we have combined £100m worth of front-line services within 18 months, and we are on track to save £40m a year from 2015/16. We have helped 800 troubled families, reduced care proceedings in court from 58 weeks to 26, launched new employability passports to show 3,500 young people the way into work, and we are spending £1m to reduce the rates of youth offending by 10%.
In short, our three councils are working with local businesses, voluntary groups and other local services to drive growth, reduce dependency, build homes, create jobs, lengthen lives and rehabilitate criminals as a place, not just as a local authority – and in Westminster this has been done with a sixth straight council tax freeze, and with the lowest council tax in the country.
So, local government with its partners is demonstrating how it can deliver quality services whilst managing and meeting the pressures of reduced budgets.
Yet despite our tri-borough approach and despite the introduction of innovative ways of reducing our budget, the next few years will be equally tough if not tougher. Over the next four years Westminster must take a further £100m out of its budget. In fact, the pressures on public expenditure over the next parliament are expected to be tougher than those faced since the election of 2010.
This is why central government needs to keep its nerve and see through its commitment to move away from the centrally driven, one size fits all approach. Simply reducing budgets across the board will not suffice.
We believe this could be done through Public Service Reform Deals where areas or groups of areas should be able to come together and negotiate a specific deal – where nothing from business rates to community safety is off the table – around public service reform with Whitehall, tailored to local needs and requirements.
This doesn’t just work in London, Greater Manchester is a fine example of how this can be achieved in places regardless of their demographic, politics and population.
With the chancellor’s help, Local Government doesn’t have to wheel out the begging bowl. It can start a national drive which will bring everyone, from the Prime Minister to an A&E nurse, together behind one common goal of spending money on places and people, rather than in public service silos – a radical and innovative way to keeping the deficit down and creating a fairer society that helps people who aspire to work hard and get on.