There are 128 item(s) tagged with the keyword "APSE".
The prevailing issue that has exercised the minds of those in local government for the last decade has been dealing with the impact of austerity. Whilst rumours of its demise may be somewhat premature it is likely to be overtaken by something that may have an even more fundamentally profound impact on councils, dominating almost every decision they make over the next decade – that of climate change.
Whilst many councils are alert to this agenda, with dozens declaring climate change emergencies, particularly in response to high profile public protests by young people, it is easy to move the date you expect to be carbon neutral forwards by ten years or so, but unless you focus on deliverables then achieving such aspirations could prove to be difficult in practice. The clock is ticking. There is an urgent need to move beyond strategising and rhetoric to making significant progress.
It’s time for an honest conversation about tax in the UK. Successive Governments have pledged not to increase the tax burden on the public in their manifestos and then once in power they put in place policies that do the opposite.
Just look at the shift that has taken place in tax revenues since austerity started. In 2010, local government’s core spending power of £50B was around 80% funded from local tax yield with a further 20% subsidy from direct taxation. Fast forward to 2019 and the £46B or so that local government will receive in core spending power in the coming year, is outstripped by the £52B that will be raised in local taxation. Local taxation is now clearly subsidising national spending.
Local people and local businesses are now paying significantly more in council tax and business rates for the services they receive at a time when many of the neighbourhood services, that determine the look and the feel of the place, are being decimated. Add to this the fact that fees and charges have also either been introduced or increased, in order to try and hold local services together and we really are testing people’s patience.
Reading the recent announcements from Public Health Minister, Steve Brine, about the new trailblazer programme to tackle childhood obesity I couldn’t help but wonder whether there is any joined up policy thinking taking place on domestic matters whilst the shadow of Brexit remains looming large over the country.
Whilst any new money is welcomed by local government, alongside the ambition to halve childhood obesity by 2030, a competition where local authorities can bid to be one of five winners who will receive £100k a year for three years to come up with innovative ideas around active lifestyles and healthy eating, isn’t going to push back the tide on the problem when a tsunami of cuts is coming in the other direction and overwhelming public health initiatives; closing parks; forcing greenspace sell offs; and causing significant reductions in accessible sports and leisure facilities.
From the eighties up until the late-noughties a fairly stable orthodoxy existed amongst many senior policymakers that the transfer of large swathes of local government services to national outsourcing companies was a good thing, would bring much needed investment, transformation of approach and efficiency in delivery. Anyone who dared question the reality of what outcomes would actually be achieved was ostracised and branded as a dinosaur by the industry that built up around the sector.
In APSE, we always try to look for tangible evidence and think through the long-term outcomes in any suggested approach to delivering local government services and it’s therefore fair to say that we held a fairly healthy scepticism of much of the claims of risk transfer, widespread additional employment benefits and pots of gold at the end of the rainbow. From around 2005 onwards we also started to see many contracts which harked back to the CCT days or which were early strategic partnerships start to run out of steam and councils start to insource them.
A recent APSE opinion poll, conducted by Survation, exploring public opinion on neighbourhood services, found that yet again, the public give parks the highest satisfaction ratings amongst all local government services, however we also know that parks are one of the hardest hit services as a result of austerity, with many facing an uncertain future.
Anyone who reads the local government sectoral journals is well versed in the graph of doom scenario and the squeeze it creates on non-statutory services. The £3B of cuts that have hit England’s neighbourhood services are playing out harshly on the average parks services and for the most deprived areas the impact of austerity is felt all the more harshly.
Commercialisation strategy 1.0 was very much about trading and charging, using some surplus capacity or getting additional benefits from assets during the 1980’s. Fast forward to today and version 10.0.3 of that strategy is hugely different in scope and range.
Of course local authorities have suffered heavily as a result of austerity and still face further huge financial challenges, not least an intention by Government to almost completely remove RSG by 2020, however impractical and unfeasible this may appear for many areas of the country.
It was a hugely symbolic moment when Prime Minister, Theresa May, announced £2bn of additional funding for a new generation of council housing during her speech at the recent Conservative Party conference in Manchester.
Whilst it doesn’t quite take us back to the 1950’s when Housing Minister Harold McMillan enhanced his future Prime Ministerial credentials by building over 300,000 new homes in a single year, around 200,000 of which were council houses, it shows an eventual acceptance by Government that we are not going to tackle one of the biggest public policy challenges of our time without State intervention.
While successive Governments have talked about housing need, population growth, changing demographics and set ever increasing targets for the amount of homes required, we have seen little success on closing the gap between the numbers of homes needed and the amount of new builds actually taking place.
The recent report by the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman, ‘Lifting the lid on bin complaints’, has reignited the debate around outsourced services and whether local government gets value for money from such contracts.
To my mind what the report highlights is the disconnect that can sometimes take place between the council, the contractor and the service user, when a contract is outsourced. Just because a service is outsourced it doesn’t mean that the public don’t think that the council isn’t responsible for it or should have democratic oversight of the service and when they complain they expect their issues to be addressed by the council and blame them if there is a slow response, rather than the contractor.
There are some who criticise local government as being bureaucratic and lacking in creativity. In reality, local councils are being highly innovative in plugging the income gaps left by ongoing austerity and there is something of a renaissance in municipal investments.
APSE and CIPFA property services set out to identity the scale, scope and advantages of municipal investments and the results of our research have found councils taking a measured approach to investments designed to balance risk and rewards. In many ways asset investments allow councils to convert capital investment into revenue - helping them to sustain local services.
With the General Election debate starting to heat up, it’s pleasing to see that the housing crisis is featuring quite prominently in the major political party’s manifestos and more importantly local government’s role as part of the solution.
Whilst it’s not quite the 1951 election where the parties were competing on who could build the most homes during the course of the next parliament, with Harold McMillan’s Prime Ministerial credentials established on the back of delivering on housing pledges made, there is significant recognition by all that the number of homes built needs to increase dramatically in the coming years. The question is how can this be delivered by the next Government?