Don’t dodge public finance problems, says CIPFA’s incoming president

26 Jun 17

Brexit and the uncertainty following the surprise general election result do not excuse the government from facing up to outstanding public finance difficulties, CIPFA’s incoming president has said.

Speaking to PF after the 8 June election, which saw Conservative leader and prime minister Theresa May lose her Commons majority, Andy Burns highlighted the “uncertainty” around the public finances, which he said was understandable given the short-term political instability.

But he added: “At some point, the government is going to have to come back to the public finances and the things that the public sector was arguing for in the election campaign, which didn’t really happen – that honest debate about public finances, in terms of the level of tax required to fund public services.

“If the public have said they’re tired of austerity, what areas could be the focus? School funding and fair funding of business rates still need to happen, and sufficient investment in social care, alongside the NHS, through the green paper process.”

The success of Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party, which promised significant extra public spending and won 30 additional seats, has led many to interpret the election result as a revolt against austerity.

The Institute for Government has called for a “mini spending review” to identify areas for more resources.

Senior researcher Emily Andrews said: “Real issues surfaced during the campaign and they need to be addressed in a structured and evidence-based way.”

The Conservative proposal to get older people to use their housing wealth to fund long-term care – dubbed the “dementia tax” – proved very unpopular and prompted a rapid U-turn by May. It is widely seen as swinging the election away from the Tories and helping drive the Labour surge.

Burns, who is director of finance and resources at Staffordshire County Council, said he was “hopeful” about social care. “The fact that the government was prepared to talk about care funding as an important medium- and long-term issue is quite positive and a recognition that we cannot afford the future unless we change what we do,” he told PF.

On Brexit, Burns welcomed the more collaborative approach being mooted by politicians (page 8), supporting a broader approach that took in in economic and employment issues as well as immigration.

He said this was an encouraging sign that Brexit could be done differently: “We are still exiting the EU because that is what most of the public voted for – in both the referendum and the general election – but doing it in a way that works for a range of things in balance, including the economy and public services, rather than just control of borders, laws and EU money.”

  • Vivienne Russell

    Vivienne Russell is managing editor of Public Finance magazine and publicfinance.co.uk

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