When a colleague asked me what level of efficiency we should expect from local government over the next Spending Review period my initial response would not have been printable.
The phrase, ‘You can’t get blood out of a stone’ came to mind. The origins of this phrase seem to date back to 17th century Italy. The phrase in its various uses, such as ‘getting a drink out of Tom is like...’ seems to suggest the reason why you can’t do this is because Tom is unwilling. However, I would suggest if we apply the phrase to local government and the possibility of further efficiencies, the reasoning will not be down to willingness.
Local government has demonstrated time after time that it is the most efficient and effective part of Government, continuing to transform and deliver vital services to citizens during 10 years of austerity. Rising to the challenge of supporting people and business through the response to COVID-19 has surely only enhanced that reputation.
The ongoing response to the pandemic is consuming a lot of local government’s energy and resources. The shortfall in Government financial support is not helping councils sustain their focus on the key issues to support their communities.
If we had the time and resources to drive out further efficiencies from local government, my view is any opportunities lie in prevention and integration. By involving and working with communities earlier in the cycle we can possibly reduce the cost to the public purse. By working with partners such as the NHS we can find better ways to support people and, given time, may prove more cost-effective. However, this approach will take time and investment and is unlikely to deliver any benefits until the back end of the Spending Review at the earliest.
Our supplies are running so low. Now is not the time to assume local government can make a further contribution to the national blood bank.
Tony Kirkham is director of resources at Newcastle City Council