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Comment to GPSJ in response to the chancellor’s Autumn Statement

Chancellor of the Exchequer - George Osborne

Chancellor of the Exchequer – George Osborne

Following the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement Government and Public Sector journal has received the following comments: 

Responding to the Spending Review, Lord Porter, Chairman of the Local Government Association, told GPSJ: “The LGA has long called for further flexibility in the setting of council tax and it is right that Greg Clark and Greg Hands have listened to the concerns set out by local government. The announcement on council tax will go some way to allowing a number of councils to raise the money needed to offset some of the cost of social care. The £1.5 billion increase in the Better Care Fund announced today is good news, but it’s vital that this is new money and must be spent on adult social care.

“The Spending Review has handed down a difficult £4.1 billion funding cut over this Spending Review period for our residents and comes on top of almost £10 billion in further demand-led cost pressures facing councils by the end of the decade. The consequences for our local communities who will suffer as a result should not be underestimated.

“It is wrong that the services our local communities rely on will face deeper cuts than the rest of the public sector yet again and for local taxpayers to be left to pick up the bill for new government policies without any additional funding.

“Even if councils stopped filling in potholes, maintaining parks, closed all children’s centres, libraries, museums, leisure centres and turned off every street light they will not have saved enough money to plug the financial black hole they face by 2020.

“These local services which people cherish will have to be drastically scaled back or lost altogether as councils are increasingly forced to do more with less and protect life and death services, such as caring for the elderly and protecting children, already buckling under growing demand.

“This Spending Review was never about just spending less it was about spending smarter. Local government has led the way at finding innovative ways to save money but after five years of doing so the majority of savings have already made. Tragically, the Government looks set to miss a once in a generation opportunity to transform the way money is spent across the public sector and protect the services that bind communities together, improve people’s quality of life and protect the most vulnerable.

“Allowing local government to retain 100 per cent of their business rates income will help councils try to mitigate some of the pressure they face following further funding cuts. While it is positive that the Treasury has worked with us to localise business rates, this is just the start of the journey. We  will continue to work closely with Greg Clark and the DCLG team on the detailed work and consideration that must go into what extra responsibilities councils should take on to ensure we get the best outcome for local communities.”

Other industry insiders have given the following comments to GPSJ after the Autumn Statement.

“The decision by the chancellor, George Osborne, to award £3.8 billion to the NHS in his spending plans is without doubt positive news. However, this does not hide the fact that there remain some long term issues within our health service, which must be addressed, not least the growing deficit among trusts and increasing patient waiting times in A&E.

What matters now is how the NHS spends this money and what it spends it on. The NHS has the best set of data of all public sector data, yet it often ends up with kludges of bad data that is analysed with antiquated methodologies. So it’s time to ask some tough questions about the problems the NHS really wants to solve. With investment in new technology to make evidence-based decisions using data, we can build up a much clearer picture of patient needs. The efficiency savings that result will prevent us throwing money at a never-ending problem.

With the data we’ve got, and the passion within the NHS, starting with the end in mind will get us out of the trap of focusing on where we are and instead get us on the journey of delivering value based healthcare at an individual level.”

David Downing, Client Director, Director of Health, SAS UK

“Cuts in several departmental day-to-day budgets, including the Department of Energy, the Department of Business Innovation and Skills, the Department of Transport and the Department of Health, places a huge onus on Government departments to review the running and operational costs of services. One area that can achieve costs savings and benefit consumers is digitising payment solutions and outsourcing key elements of the payment process, reducing running costs and staff handling times.

Some of the payment solutions being offered by Government are still costly, inefficient and inconvenient to citizens, while digital alternatives, such as online and mobile, can boost self-service and increase customer convenience as payments can be made 24/7/365. They can also radically reduce paper processing and manual processes – and as a result staff costs – as seen by the introduction of paperless direct debits across some departments.

External payment partners can also reduce compliance and regulatory costs for government e.g. in the acceptance of debit/credit card payments and also provide a financially inclusive payment service by offering citizens the ability to pay locally through Post Offices or in local shops.”

Ross Macmillan, Head of Research and Intelligence at allpay Limited

“With today’s announcement, the simple fact is that the Government has re-assessed its spending and Departments must now look at models that can help them become more economically efficient without negatively impacting services and the lives of UK citizens – perhaps in the way that David Cameron envisaged back in September when he pledged to run public services like businesses in order to boost productivity and efficiency.

“There is much duplication across Departments with similar teams doing identical jobs – the likes of HR, finance, and so on that could be grouped together to deliver a better, more efficient and cost effective back-office service. Similarly there are significant opportunities to digitalise the way public services are delivered to citizens. Digitalising services will also reduce the demands placed on civil servants, as well as the demands placed on the infrastructure, and therefore the cost, of the country”.

Steven Cox, VP, Head of Public Sector at Fujitsu UK and Ireland

Today’s Autumn Statement and Spending Review re-confirms that the challenges the public sector faces will continue, with local government seeing a budget reduction and no increase in funding for police. Although no immediate cuts have been announced for the NHS or policing, all public sector organisations will still have to seek genuine transformation in order to continue to provide core public services. The public sector needs to do this in the face of increasing demand and in a challenging financial environment.

Technology has a role to play in this transformation, above and beyond what has happened to date. It can create long term savings and drive up productivity in a relatively short time frame, enabling our UK public sector workers, both on and behind the frontline, to be more productive and efficient. Not only that, but this can all be done while delivering services to citizens in the way they want and need them.

Community healthcare professionals and social care workers should not have to return to hospitals and offices to write up patients’ records or input data into systems from handwritten notes. Police officers should not spend their valuable time behind a desk rather than out on the beat.

We need to make sure these people have the tools they need to do their jobs to the very best of their ability. They need devices and connectivity which allow them to work wherever and whenever, and to access and update information and systems securely, quickly and easily.

If frontline workers can increase the amount of time spent in the community with citizens, even by a relatively small amount, it can have a significant cumulative impact. The police forces who are using mobile devices and 4G connectivity while on the beat (Met Police, for example), estimate they gain on average an hour per officer per shift – time that can be reinvested in keeping our communities safer. For the NHS, using technology in this way could contribute to the £22bn in efficiency savings it is still expected to deliver by 2020.

Behind the frontline there is further opportunity for savings. By embracing flexible working and connecting information and people across diverse systems and locations, productivity gains and lower overheads can be achieved. Moving to a shared desk and flexible working model for example enables central and local government to re-assess their property footprint and reduce overall office space, while still maintaining a ‘base’ for a larger number of employees who don’t need a desk all day, every day.

The public sector cannot afford to continue delivering services as they do today. The technology to support some of the changes needed in order to make sustainable savings already exists. It offers rapid return on investment while maintaining, and sometimes improving, services to citizens.

Mick Wayman, Head of Public Sector, Vodafone UK

“This is a real opportunity for public sector organisations to change their ICT purchasing habits, remove the bias towards big brands and mainstream solutions and start getting better value and efficiency from their spend. Failure to take advantage of the G Cloud and Government procurement frameworks could take a serious toll on the future development of the public sector. October 2015 saw the largest amount of Government borrowing since 2009, therefore

Mr Osbourne must be thanking the financial gods at the OBR for delivering a £27bn windfall. Without this, further budget cuts would’ve no doubt been implemented that would setback many firms that are trying to further themselves as a supplier to the public sector.’’

“Public sector organisations that partner with SMEs often receive up to a 30% saving on solutions and services, with extra value on offer in terms of specialist expertise and account focus. I hope that the Autumn Statement removes some of the inertia and fear that costs the public sector dearly as organisations move forward with voice and data initiatives designed to take them deeper into the cloud as-a-service solution provision, mobilisation and other forms of digital innovation.”

“Stepping outside the perceived ‘safe’ parameters and choosing an SME could mean a lot more budget to play for and a better-fitting solution to boot”

Mahmood Chaudhri, Managing Director at Datrix

“Corporate behaviour is increasingly under scrutiny. In this day and age, every measure possible should be taken to empower and maintain a strong workforce as the number one priority- the rise in the Living Wage and taking significant measures to hire apprentices, can play a huge part in this.

As a proud Living Wage employer and champion of apprentices schemes, we believe that all businesses can play a key role in powering forward the responsible economy of the future. Continued investment and support for the Living Wage from any government, as well as the continued backing of apprenticeship training schemes, will incentivise more young people to move into paid work and to develop their crucial skills sets.

Businesses that truly care about their societal impact will invest heavily to attract ambitious new talent and to retain a well-rounded and highly-skilled workforce. We therefore welcome any initiatives to further develop the Living Wage in the UK and we welcome the government’s continued commitment to skills with the new apprenticeship levy”

Rebekah Wallis, Director of People & CR National Management Ricoh UK

The Association of Directors of Environment, Economy Planning and Transport (ADEPT) has given a mixed welcome to the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement. 

Neil Gibson, Vice President of ADEPT said: “The shift towards local devolved responsibilities is helpful. It suggests meaningful devolution, which is in line with our Prospectus aims, but we still need real tools in order to make it work on the ground, and we are ready to work with Government to achieve this.

“We need sufficient revenue funding, to be able to programme and project manage capital spend. We are already seeing many of our best people leave local authorities to work in the private sector where they are able to use their skills to best effect.

”This Autumn Statement brings a raft of challenges for ADEPT members, but we will continue to inform and work with Government to achieve the best outcomes for our communities.”

The Association has welcomed ongoing local economic investment through the Government’s continued support for the Local Growth Fund and a new round of Enterprise Zones, but believes the Government could have gone further.

Simon Neilson, Chair of ADEPT’s Planning, Housing and Regeneration Board said: “We strongly believe in the importance of continued investment in local projects and therefore welcome the government’s re-commitment to Local Growth Fund. However, we want to see even more flexibility for local areas and LEPs to determine their priorities free of central control.

“All areas where there is a powerful enough incentive to grow local economies, should enjoy the benefits of Enterprise Zone status through business rate localisation, and retain the proceeds of that growth. As we have said before, the current system of business rates is deeply flawed. There is a very real risk of a postcode lottery in local government funding based upon the health of your business rate base. We need to be able to plan with much more certainty.”

On housing, Simon Neilson said: “Investment in new housing is always welcome and we hope that the principle of affordability is safeguarded for Starter Homes for far longer than the proposed five years. However we would like to see safeguards within the Housing and Planning Bill to ensure viable employment land is protected. We would also like to work with Government to address the issues face by those in the rented sector, we mustn’t lose sight of the fact that not everyone will be able to afford to buy.”

Rupert Clubb, Chair of ADEPT’s Environment Board said: “We are disappointed that funding for DECC and DEFRA has been cut. The cut to DECC is particularly concerning as it is already one of the smallest departments in Whitehall. Following the Energy Policy announcement last week by the Secretary of State, it is a concern as to whether there will be enough resources to deliver this major change in the economy over the coming years. However, ADEPT welcomes the opportunity to work with DECC in delivering on the new Energy Policy and developing how local government in partnership with Government, business and industry bodies can deliver the low carbon future that we need for our national and local economies to grow.

ADEPT is the voice of Local Authority county, unitary and metropolitan Strategic Place Directors across England with responsibility for the key place based services, including transport, environment, planning, economic development, housing and waste.

Autumn Statement reaction, Peninsula Rail Task Force comment 

The news that the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement has confirmed the work of the Peninsula Rail Task Force to deliver a report into the future of rail in the South West, but there is a cautious welcome for the remainder of the announcement.

Councillor Andrew Leadbetter, Chair of the Peninsula Rail Task Force said:” We have been working hard to develop the report to Government setting out our ambitions for the rail network in the South West for many months now.

“Whilst it is reassuring to see that the electrification of the main line is still continuing as it will bring indirect benefits, and likewise the Cornish resignalling, we need to understand the ramifications of a dedicated new franchise, particularly as it has been proposed without prior consultation from the Department of Transport.

“We are prepared to discuss what this might mean for the South West and how it might achieve our three point plan.  We would welcome the Government offering to debate this issue but our priorities must not be compromised. We are committed to working towards greater resilience, faster journey times and sufficient capacity and that will remain paramount.

“ The proposal for a new station between Castle Cary and Taunton is not new, but as we have been clear, in order to progress, Government funds would be needed to develop a business case – as well as consider the potential for Wellington too.”

Autumn Statement – Housing Comment

The creation of 400,000 homes by the end of the decade is hugely welcomed, however is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to helping the current housing crisis and will still mean we have 40% less homes than required.

Government funds must be channelled to create quality homes, which are both affordable to purchase and to run over the course of the home’s lifetime and by guaranteeing the quality of Britain’s housing stock, we can rebuild the trust between potential buyers and the construction industry. A recent Energy Saving Trust survey put housebuilders at the bottom of the list of consumer suppliers. Householders must be able to trust those who build their homes, trust that these homes are going to do what they say in the brochure.

Moreover, recent corporate scandals (VW, Thompson, Tesco…) have illustrated that erosion of trust not only impacts sales, but also share prices and profitability. Greater trust and improved image in housebuilders will not only increase local acceptance of new neighbourhoods but will also attract new people to work in a sector that’s facing a significant skills shortage which is putting Government’s housebuilding targets at risk.

The Home Quality Mark was launched to provide consumers with the knowledge to make a smart choice with a trusted housebuilder when buying or renting a home and to give housebuilders a framework for delivering great housing that’s fit for the future. House building is at the “lowest peacetime level since the 1920s and plans announced today could still mean 40% less to build the homes we need. This is why we invite the government to join us in ensuring Britain increases the quantity and quality of its homes.

Gwyn Roberts, BRE New Homes and Communities Team Leader & Home Quality Mark (HQM) Project Lead

Arts Council England responds to the Government Spending Review and Autumn Statement 2015

Describing the arts sector as “one of the best investments we can make as a nation” the Chancellor George Osborne has today announced a cash terms increase to the Arts Council.

We understand that this results in a small increase in cash terms of approximately £10m per annum for the four years up to 2019/20.

This settlement represents a better than average result for arts and culture compared to other Government departments. Arts and culture is one of the Government’s unprotected areas of spend.

This settlement enables the Arts Council to continue investing in our 663 national portfolio arts organisations and our 21 Major Partner Museums at current levels until 2018. In addition the settlement allows for growth resulting from new and previously announced Government commitments to arts and culture.

Further consideration will also be given to a new tax credit to support exhibitions in museums and galleries.

Sir Peter Bazalgette, Chair of Arts Council England said;

“This is an astonishing settlement for arts and culture. The very strong case made by the Arts Council and the sector, supported by DCMS ministers, for the huge benefit arts and culture deliver to our quality of life, our society and our creative economy has been recognised by the Chancellor.

“This settlement means we can keep up our efforts to ensure everyone, everywhere in England benefits from Arts Council money.  We can continue to invest in children and young people, disadvantaged communities and new talent as well as hundreds of much loved arts and cultural institutions.

“We now need to understand the settlement for Local Authorities. Our team across the country will be having place by place conversations. We cannot replace their revenue but we’ll keep investing where Local Authorities keep faith with culture.”

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