Local government under pressureFollow @pwc_ukgov
By Andy Ford, Local Government Partner
What do the ongoing pressures on local government mean for how tomorrow's services will be delivered? This was on the agenda of a roundtable meeting we convened on Tuesday with think tank Reform.
It’s the first in a series of Under Pressure roundtables examining the multiple pressures public service providers are facing - from shrinking budgets to growing demand for services and an ambitious reform agenda.
We were joined by local government leaders and key policy thinkers to consider these issues and how they are tackling these challenges day in and out. The debate centred on a number of key questions. What local government services should be considered essential? How can financial and service melt down in local government be identified and avoided? And is self-regulation enough to prevent future failure taking place?
We know from our recent survey of councils that they have done much to find savings in a way that has mostly safeguarded front-line services. But with financial pressures building, 90% of council chief executives believe that, in the next three years, one or more councils will get into serious financial difficulties. What’s clear is that the council of the future will need to look very different to meet challenges like these head on.
A number of participants commented on a gap between rising public expectations for services and shrinking council resource. Opening up a debate about the role of the general public in establishing and managing services (see our Capable Communities report for more on this) and what people can ‘do for themselves’ will be key to help answer this question and help manage demand in a sustainable way.
The discussion also covered a number of barriers preventing local authorities from preparing for the pressures ahead. For example, while there are rewards to be had from managing demand, such as through early intervention and prevention, these are often considered too far into the future to be a political win. And there are consequences for the different and new skill sets needed to drive the reform of local government.
We also discussed the role of self-regulation in preventing future financial and service failures. It was acknowledged that the Coalition’s localism drive presented opportunities to innovate and improve but also new responsibilities to self-regulate. This will mean Whitehall learning to trust more and letting go.
Local governments won’t, in my view, see a “Lehman moment”. The more likely scenario is that some councils will fail to deliver essential services – indeed, 70% of council executives and 80% of leaders in our survey thought this. But this means the council of the future will need to look and feel very different and be more agile in delivering services to meet the needs of their residents.
Contact Andy Ford