Magazine article Public Finance

Normal Service Can Be Resumed

Magazine article Public Finance

Normal Service Can Be Resumed

Article excerpt

THE COMBINATION of the drastically reduced 'formula' grant for local government and the decentralising Localism Bill suggests that the government expects council finance chiefs to act even more rapidly on savings, as well as supporting further changes in local service provision and governance arrangements.

With no apparent pause for breath in this administration's emerging reform agenda, local authorities must look beyond conventional efficiency drives in adapting to the provision of citizencentric and sustainable services.

Of course, the Localism Bill had interesting decentralisation and community empowerment themes, including giving residents a right of challenge on local services and greater say on public finances. While this is a potentially transformative reading of local powers, it has to be viewed as part of a wider and familiar trend.

Once again, local government is being 'squeezed at both ends' - a central government armlock and the expectations of local communities.

So however much the localism agenda moves forward, the immediate and overriding task of local government and its partners remains. They will have to rapidly re-engineer the economics of service provision to bridge yawning funding and service gaps as the 27% reductions hit home.

This unprecedented situation demands renewed efforts by local authorities to understand their community's demands and then adapt service models at the corporate and departmental service levels. Only by taking this tough approach can both the necessary savings and profound change m local service costs he hrought about within the very tight schedule demanded by this government.

The answer lies in changing existing thinking to enable faster and more intelligent service interventions by departments that are currently constrained by administrative and reporting burdens. The focus for authorities is equally on the number and productivity of staff, to provide essential services with fewer, and more mobile, resources.

Public sector bodies can make better use of significant, yet often 'locked up', stores of community data. This information can he harnessed to develop services and channels that let organisations interact more effectively with the public at greatly reduced unit costs. …

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