A startling finding from a survey of 50 local authorities is that 71% have found the impact of spending cuts so far to have "been positive or neutral." Only 10% said it has been negative. The survey was commissioned by the RSA and LGIU and was conducted among council chief executives and senior staff.
Remember that while in the rest of the public sector spending cuts have been pretty negligible, the cuts to Government grants to Town Halls have been sharp. Among councils taking part in the survey the "spending reductions in 2011/12 ranged from 3 percent to 33 percent (with most looking to make savings of 10 percent to 15 percent)."
There has been plenty of hysteria about the devastation that would be the "inevitable" result. A few (usually Labour) councils have got stuck in to making high profile cuts like closing libraries and Sure Start centres, slashing funding for voluntary groups, and ending weekly bin collections. Either this has been done due to the idleness and incompetence of the councils concerned, or because they are playing the political game of hoping central Government will be blamed.
But what this survey shows is that, overwhelmingly, councils have coped will. Indeed, having less money to provide a service, has prompted a review in the way it is delivered. This has then resulted in more for less. The service has been enhanced at reduced cost.
There are more cuts to come – but there is also still plenty of scope for greater efficiency. More than half the authorities surveyed (57%) have already begun sharing services with other local authorities to bring down costs. So far, under a quarter of councils "reported trying to reduce costs through contracting out and just fewer that one in five through engagement with the voluntary sector."
Sensibly, the overwhelming majority were talking to local residents about spending reductions. 87% had done so already, while most of the rest planned to do so.
Thus far the spending cuts for Whitehall have been feeble compared to those for the Town Halls. This survey should encourage the Government to toughen up a bit with some real cuts.