Andrew Gwynne: Councils need local PACs

26 Sep 18

Local government funding is “not fit for purpose” and council-run public finance scrutiny bodies are needed, the shadow communities secretary has told the Labour conference.

Andrew Gwynne told delegates at a CIPFA fringe event yesterday: “The current system of local government finance is not fit for purpose. It is unfair on the poorest parts of the country.”

A Labour government would deliver a “radical reform of local government finance”, the MP for Denton and Reddish told the session called ‘What are the biggest public service pressures facing the country right now?’, jointly hosted with the Institute for Government think-tank.

“We will give local authorities public accounts committees to improve local government spending decisions,” he explained. 

Labour mooted the idea of local public accounts committees in its 2015 manifesto so that “every pound spend by local bodies creates value for money for local taxpayers”.

The charity the Centre for Public Scrutiny has backed the idea of local PACs, such as to scrutinise the governance of Local Enterprise Partnerships, the developments in healthcare including Sustainability and Transformation Partnerships as well as governance and funding of education.

The networking organisation the Association for Public Service Excellence (APSE) has also advocated the setting up of such local scrutiny bodies.

Gwynne suggested the local committees would also add a layer of scrutiny to councils own finances.

His party was committed to devolution so that councils can “deliver local priorities”, he added. 

The shadow communities secretary reiterated Labour’s commitment to looking at replacing council tax with a land value tax, which he claimed could raise money to pay for “neighborhood services”.

Discussing the challenges faced by the public sector, Emily Andrews associate director at the IfG, said there had been a “serious deterioration” in the safety of prisons in the UK, and said that she was “worried about the sustainability of the adult social care provider sector.”

Andrews said that the issue of high staff turnover in prisons “is a cost to the service but also a risk to quality of service.”

She noted that this is also a problem in the health service, in which she claimed “the proportion of people leaving the NHS citing workload has doubled since 2010”.

Andrews speaking at the fringe event yesterday:

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