The Chancellor’s Autumn Statement this month involved a good deal of back-slapping by the Government while shying away from the key point: that despite the pain of the cuts, by taking decisions which have suppressed economic growth George Osborne has failed to meet even his own deficit targets.
In practice that means austerity is going to continue for longer now, with current forecasts indicating another five years to go before the UK’s budget is back in surplus. Just salami slicing budgets is never going to preserve services while tacking National Debt.
Instead, we have to do things differently and that involves moving power away from central government and a zero-based review of all current government expenditure, finding more efficient ways for the public sector to work as a whole.
Local councils have already seen reductions in what they get from government of almost 40% and the need for a more logical approach to both what and how services are provided is clearly needed if we are going to go on doing all the things residents expect us to do.
So far Labour’s Zero-Based Review has identified over half a billion in efficiency savings in local government. Some of those savings are fairly simple, such as dealing with inefficient elements of council funding, such as New Homes Bonus and the Transformation Challenge Award. More significant reform is possible through back office collaboration, shared services, and streamlining as well as some structural changes. For instance, merging some of the Fire and Rescue Authorities could both improve the effectiveness of the service and save £83.6m a year. Savings are also to be found in the way we approach Enterprise Zones.
At the same time, Labour plans will devolve £30 billion worth of funding from central government departments to localities, providing local control over areas such as jobs and skills, training, housing and local transport, and integrated health and social care. By devolving decision-making for public sector expenditure to communities we can ensure that the services provided on the frontline are built around genuine local needs and not the current one-size-fits-all model in Whitehall.