SOLACE survey gives insight to local government mindset

SOLACE members see a ‘predictable’ although ‘bleak’ picture ahead in terms of local government finance, according to the SOLACE Insights survey released this week. Our feature writer Suzanne Danon gets to grips with the main facts and figures.

The survey, supported by CapacityGrid, was carried out to measure the mood in local government and enable SOLACE to identify and understand the main priorities for the sector and the key challenges faced by local authorities.

In the run up to the general election, which SOLACE has described as ‘very unpredictable’, members have stated that what is clear is that more cuts to local services will be made regardless of the future government. In fact 49% stated they were very concerned about the effects of cuts to come.

Despite local government responding effectively to less funding since 2010, through extreme levels of saving being delivered and the sector becoming increasingly innovative, the survey paints a picture of ‘local government under severe financial pressure, fearful of the potential future and feeling that solutions are unlikely to come from government’.

While concerns over local government funding remain high, the survey indicates that local government leaders are feeling positive about the short and long term economic future of Britain as a whole:

·         49% see the next 12 months as improving a lot or a little

·         25% felt it would stay the same

·         25% felt it would get worse.

And looking towards the long term:

·         57% believe it would improve over the next 10 years

·         24% felt it would stay the same

·         17% felt it would decline.

Despite these positive forecasts for the country, the same cannot be said for local government. During the current Parliament, local government has seen the largest reduction in revenue of any public service. Council’s core grant has fallen by 40%.

Looking at the next 10 years 75% of SOLACE members believed the state of local government finance would decline, 13% believed it would stay the same and only 10% felt it would improve. Districts, unitary authorities and counties all felt differently about the local government finance settlement, with districts more positive (52% overall feeling positive), and counties feeling most negative (50% negative, only 25% feeling positive).

This positive outlook for the country and negative outlook for local government is according to SOLACE highly likely to see pressure developing from a mismatch of expectations.

“If the ‘feel good factor’ from a growing economy does spread across the country, the public may be surprised to see austerity accelerating in the public sector, particularly if its impact on frontline services is increasingly visible.”

Although many respondents said they had been affected by public sector spending cuts in the past 12 months (57% a great deal, 35% a fair amount), SOLACE members do not feel this impact is consistently affecting service quality. When asked to reflect on quality of service provided by their organisation compared to before the public sector spending cuts 41% felt it was much better or a little better. 27% felt it was about the same or a little worse, and 31% felt it was a little worse or much worse. When asked how they felt local residents perceived the quality of services before and after 30% thought they viewed it as much or a little better, with 40% stating ‘about the same’.

 

*Other survey highlights

Looking at the last 12 months members were asked what they perceived as the top three main priorities for local government. The survey revealed:

1.       Cost reductions/efficiency (74%)

2.       Pressure to stimulate economic growth (60%)

3.       Adult social care provision (33%)

These were followed by children’s social care provision (29%), commissioning (21%), housing (16%) and planning (12%).

The following were stated when members were asked to choose four to five areas that most needed improving in their local areas in the coming 12 months:

1.       Affordability of housing (61%)

2.       Adult social care (43%)

3.       Health services (39%)

4.       Wage levels and cost of living (38%)

5.       Job prospects (36%)

In terms of innovation, councils have prioritised the pursuit of more efficient solutions to address financial challenges. The top three innovative ways to deliver services in the most cost effective way are:

1.       Reduced spending on back office functions (73%)

2.       Shared service/management (66%)

3.       Improving asset management (63%)

Asked to consider the next 12 months, more innovative solutions were suggested:

1.       Partnership working with other organisations (83%)

2.       Income generation (72%)

3.       Radical service redesign (66%)

Looking towards the next general election members were asked what areas should be the main priorities for the future government. The top three answers were:

1.       Health and social care, which has a massive impact financially to the sector, (72%)

2.       Devolution (52%)

3.       Housing supply (42%)

However, when asked to what extent they believed that any of the main political parties had a sufficient programme for change for local government, 84% of SOLACE members either disagreed or strongly disagreed. Only 6% agreed either slightly or strongly.

 

To read the full report visit https://khub.net/solace

 

What do you think of the SOLACE Insights survey results? Do they match your thoughts? Let us know below.

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