Local government leaders and sector experts have been delivering their verdict of Rishi Sunak’s first Spending Review.
The chancellor unveiled a series of new measures yesterday, including a £4bn Levelling Up Fund, extra money to tackle homelessness and infrastructure projects.
Here are some of the reactions:
Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF)
‘Remarkably for a much-hyped statement on levelling up opportunity across the country, the Chancellor’s word’s ring hollow as weaker local economies will be getting less money than previously in the aftermath of the pandemic.
‘The growing numbers of people in or at risk of being pulled into poverty in our country will have taken little solace from the plans laid out by the chancellor today. The latest economic forecasts are stark and deeply troubling. Behind the figures there are real families wondering how they will get through this winter and beyond. The Chancellor has not risen to the challenge facing the nation. In the here and now families need to know how they will pay for food, childcare and keep a roof over their heads,’ said JRF director, Helen Barnard.
Local Government Information Unit (LGiU)
‘Today’s statement was a bleak account of the nation’s finances and a tightening of Whitehall’s centralising grip. The chancellor announced a 4.5% increase in spending power for local government. Given the economic crisis councils are facing an increase in spending power is welcome and essential but let’s be clear that it comes predominantly from council tax increases and the social care precept. The political and economic risk all sits on local government. There is no gift from the centre.
‘As always, there’s not nearly enough for social care. Pay rises for doctors and nurses are welcome and no one could begrudge them after the 2020 they’ve had, but care workers have also had a horrific year. By deepening the chasm between NHS and social care, we will exacerbate the staffing challenge many areas already have and create further pressure for the health service in the future,’ said LGiU chief executive, Jonathan Carr-West.
Institute of Economic Development (IED)
‘There are no surprises in what the chancellor has had to say, but like the household that avoids opening credit card statements, nobody wants to stare at the hard reality. Nevertheless, the funding review is disappointing in one regard irrespective of the financial black hole. The time has come for a different and radical compact between central and local government. Small scale bail out funds for local government are too small to make a difference – but also completely miss the point. Covid has shown that local government is essential in delivering services for communities and we need a blank sheet of paper approach in devising the funding mechanisms and terms of reference between our capable local councils and a Whitehall that has long been fearful of losing its control,’ said IED director, Nigel Wilcock.
County Councils Network (CCN)
‘Today’s announcement will ease the burden on councils next year, especially in relation to the continuing costs of the coronavirus. But there is an onus on local authorities raising more from council tax to fund their social care costs, and with councils facing an underlying funding shortfall before the pandemic, they still face some difficult decisions next year on what services to reduce.
‘We will now be looking to the Local Government Finance Settlement for a fair allocation of resources which fully recognises county authorities’ pressures arising from Coronavirus and does not unduly penalise those councils if they choose to levy the social care precept,’ said CCN leader, Cllr David Williams.
‘This is austerity plain and simple. A decade of spending cuts left public services exposed when Covid came calling. The government is making the same disastrous mistake again. Going after the pay of millions will be a bitter pill for key workers getting the UK through the pandemic and out the other side.
‘The chancellor wants to pause the pay of care, school, council and other public service workers who’ve been on fast forward all year. Extra money in pockets gets spent locally. Less than a pound more a week for some won’t save the thousands of ailing shops and leisure, arts and hospitality venues across the country,’ said general secretary, Dave Prentis.
Association for Consultancy and Engineering (ACE)
‘Much will be made of the changes to the Green Book, which are probably more a symbolic gesture for a shift in culture, than anything else. Equally, the creation of a UK Infrastructure Bank will be welcomed, but I wonder whether the chancellor is asking the wrong question – we already have access to finance, what we are lacking is the appetite from government to deploy it and investible opportunities – so I’m unsure what problem exactly the bank will be solving?
‘We were also pleased to see the principles of the Construction Leadership Council’s proposals for a new local infrastructure fund to accelerate growth and recovery adopted. The £4 billion Levelling-Up Fund can potentially be a catalyst for locally-led regeneration, but we hope to see its scope expanded and capability deployed ahead of the UK Infrastructure Bank. This will ensure we maximise its potential impact on recovery, rather than focus on individual tactical project investments,’ said ACE chief executive, Hannah Vickers.
‘Today’s announcement does not go far enough to help the many thousands of people who are struggling to stay afloat; and will push more low income households across the country into the grip of poverty.There is an absence of any new policies to improve our inadequate social security system and enable people to have enough income to get by, let alone thrive. For a society that believes in compassion and fairness, the lack of commitment to maintaining the vital £20 uplift to Universal Credit will make it impossible for so many of us to get back on our feet. Our own research into people’s financial resilience shows how one in three of us have had to rely on credit since the pandemic took hold. We urge the government to prevent a rising tide of destitution,’ said chief executive, Thomas Lawson.
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