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NAO report proves it’s time to axe the DCLG
19 November, 2014 | By Nick Golding
The National Audit Office’s report into the financial sustainability of local authorities is a suitably damning epitaph for the Department for Communities & Local Government’s stewardship of council finances this parliament.
It is packed full of nuggets which leave one questioning the competence of the DCLG to oversee a funding system which helps determine whether the vulnerable young and old receive adequate care, the economies of towns and cities grow and hundreds of thousands of local government workers receive fair reward for difficult jobs.
The DCLG “does not have an accurate measure of the cumulative financial challenge facing local authorities,” Sue Higgins, the NAO’s executive leader of local services, says.
It “does not have an accurate measure of the cumulative financial challenge facing local authorities” and is “unsighted” on the extent to which councils might financially fail.
The time has come to abolish the DCLG and invest the savings in efficient local services
The list of charges levied at the DCLG would be astonishing had the last four-and-a-half years not happened. As it is, councils are all too used to hearing Eric Pickles blustering on about flags or complaining about “spy cars” and avoiding proper debate about the central funding decisions which meant they were being forced into a position where they had to deny older people care or close flagship facilities.
Now we get confirmation that the department has not even had the curiosity to analyse the impact of a radical set of policies.
While the NAO says councils will see a 25% real-terms cut to their total income between 2010 and 2016, the DCLG has not even been able to produce a figure for spending pressure to be meaningfully calculated over the course of the parliament. Metropolitan authorities in particular are quaking under the burden of the cuts they are being forced to make and the DCLG’s response consists of little more than burying its head in the sand.
This is not to say that it is wrong to seek to balance the books. The deficit will hamper future generations and has to be tackled. It is right that the public sector should become more efficient and councils’ performance at retaining frontline services and rooting out unnecessary expenditure has been truly commendable.
However, we have long seen the DCLG’s political leadership fail to engage in a meaningful debate about where the burden of cuts is targeted. There has been no attempt to stand up for local services or to query whether certain parts of the country, namely the north, are being disproportionately affected.
If the department which is supposed to be local government’s gateway to the rest of Whitehall cannot successfully undertake its responsibilities then it should be axed.
We all too regularly see interaction with the Treasury or Department for Business, Innovation & Skills prove more fruitful for councils than that with the DCLG and it was no surprise when Greater Manchester’s mayoral deal was hatched with the Treasury, not Eric Pickles’ department. The time has come to abolish the DCLG and invest the savings in efficient local services.