Liz Truss MP said the Spending Review would be launched just before Parliament’s summer recess and finalised in the autumn, with budgets set “in an ideal world, from 2020 to 2023”.
She was one of four high-profile speakers taking part in a lively and wide-ranging debate on the Spending Review at the LGA’s Smith Square headquarters last month.
The debate, hosted by writer, journalist and broadcaster Samira Ahmed, also featured Dr Anneliese Dodds MP, Shadow Minister for the Treasury; Liberal Democrat Peer Baroness Pinnock, a former Leader of Kirklees Council; and Crossbencher Lord Adebowale, Chief Executive of Turning Point.
Ms Truss told the Smith Square audience that “we recognise more funding is needed in special educational needs and children’s services”, and that this was being looked at in the Spending Review.
She also advocated greater devolution of powers to local government, including the freedom to raise more income locally. But she was challenged by Baroness Pinnock when she said she wanted to keep reducing business rates – given councils are expected to become more reliant on business rates income as funding from central government continues to decline.
Describing local government as “the glue that holds our community together”, Baroness Pinnock highlighted the “false economy” of paring back local services, citing how adult social care is now only offered to those with the most critical needs in her own council, Kirklees.
“Early prevention not only saves local public spending but it enhances lives. Why wouldn’t you do that, if it enables people to live at home safe and well?” she said.
“You can’t have local government and public services that keep communities together on a shoestring.”
Dr Dodds also picked up on the importance of prevention and early intervention, but noted that many interventions were being “cut back quite severely” despite having a strong evidence base.
She also called for a proper review of local taxation, given many local authorities are increasingly reliant on council tax and business rates as revenue support grant declines.
“That’s fine if you’ve got predictable revenue streams. But if you’ve got a population that already finds it difficult to pay council tax and you don’t have loads of firms knocking down your door to situate themselves in your area, then you’re in trouble, and your services are in trouble,” she said.
Reflecting on austerity and cuts to preventative and community services, such as youth services and substance misuse support, Lord Adebowale told the Smith Square audience: “I don’t believe that we’re saving money. What we’re doing is kicking the can down the road.”
He cited an example of a man with mental health problems and complex needs, who was unable to access services when his local day centre closed. He ended up on a psychiatric ward and consequently supported by Turning Point – costing more than if community services had been available.
He added: “Local government…is essential to the welfare of the social infrastructure of this country. Unless the Spending Review recognises the hollowing out of the social infrastructure you are responsible for, everyone suffers and we don’t save any money.”