Public services need serious reform, say sector leaders

24 May 24

Current funding situation ‘unsustainable’ party leaders warned ahead of election campaigns

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Public service leaders have urged the political parties to think seriously about long-term reforms as the general election gets under way.

Sector influencers have warned the dire state of public services after years of austerity means clear plans need to be put before voters.

As Westminster winds up essential business, campaign teams were cautioned not to fudge commitments in the same way as Theresa May did with the care commitment in her election manifesto that was panned by social care experts.

Labour’s manifesto was signed off in February and the Liberal Democrats are also understood to have finalised their pledges. Details of the Conservative campaign strategy have already been leaked online, indicating its policy document has also been completed.

CIPFA set out the questions parties would need to answer when their policy plans are launched.

The central concern is how services will be delivered and paid for. The last performance review by CIPFA and the Institute for Government revealed performance across the main areas such as health had got worse.

CIPFA urged the parties to be “clear and bold” in their manifestos about how they will fund and deliver local services.

Critical issues include resolving the NHS waiting list which is at 7.7 million people.

Plans for long-overdue reform local government finances was also on the to-do list: “Avoid the crisis-cash-repeat short-termist model of funding and bring in some sustainable planning,” CIPFA’s statement said.

The main parties have all pledged to continue devolution but the parties were urged to make clear what they mean in reality.

And the next health secretary was advised to tackle the charging system for local government which is “unfair, unpredictable and complex”.

CIPFA said: “Whoever forms the next government will face a challenging list of priorities and unprecedented constraints on the pubic purse. The current situation in our public services is unsustainable and this is an opportunity to reform away from ‘sticking plaster approaches to fund our most critical sectors.

“It’s also an opportunity to define what we want our public services to do and how we want to fund them for the long-term in response to these short-term challenges.”

CIPFA and other sector influencers also urged the parties to end to single year funding deals handed down by Whitehall.

The Institute for Government said: “The next government must extend devolution to 85% of England to deliver meaningful and balanced economic growth.”

The Local Government Information Unit said politicians should do nothing less than make a commitment to save local government.

It warned councils are facing financial fragility, uncertain status and declining levels of trust which represents “an existential threat to local government”.

“That’s not an abstract problem. It’s a direct threat to the services we all rely on: homes, care, children’s services, parks, streets, libraries, and so many more. These are the things which most of us care about most of the time: delivered by the Town Hall, not by Whitehall,” it said.

“And it’s a problem for central government too. National success has local foundations and no government can succeed without the help of resilient, sustainable councils.”

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