Date Published

14/02/2022

Reading time

3 Min Read

Together with independent thinktank Localis we hosted ‘Going long’, a roundtable discussion which brought together national and local experts to discuss the implications of the 2021 spending review in respect to the local government’s ability to deliver for people and place.

The panel considered:

  • what the Spending Review could mean for the future provision of reformed local public services and opportunities to deliver better and more responsively
  • whether enough financial and policy headroom is provided to build regional economies
  • whether scope will be provided for councils to learn lessons from the pandemic to create resilience at the level of place and community
  • the extent to which councils can maximise their own assets and make use of their convening power to support vital services and social infrastructure
  • the challenges and opportunities presented by the push to local growth and regional development encapsulated in the government’s Levelling Up agenda.

 

Key findings from the roundtable included:

1.     More local nuance would support true improvement

The panel agreed that there was still much to be learnt regarding the distribution of funds, methodologies, and processes, making it challenging for local authorities to be innovative and plan ahead in the medium to long-term. It was felt a more considerable injection of funding at a local level was needed to avoid ‘levelling up’ gaps broadening and to support the modernisation and reform of public services at the level of place.

2.    Discretionary allocations help growth collaboration but can leave people behind

To be able to deliver against funding, places have had to demonstrate that all local partners are on board - collaborative working relationships that many local authorities have said didn’t exist before discretionary funding rounds and Covid-19 pressures. This has augmented local voices, but increasing competition for funds means that those places less able to collect and collate evidence of deprivation may miss out.

3.    Financial headroom is still key

‘Levelling Up’ is largely seen as central government capital investment, rather than revenue investment, with the panel flagging the need for a funding allocation system that is cross-sectoral, long-term, transparent, and built with the budgets of all tiers of government in mind. Beyond central funding, many felt that the power of the Prudential Code is underestimated, and that it could be strengthened, providing it remains permissive enough to enable medium to long-term growth.

4.    Focus on building local resilience

The issues most acutely faced by communities need to be identified and addressed by the levelling up agenda, namely how best to improve the lives of people who are struck by poverty and crisis. This involves identifying gaps in social infrastructure and which places are most in need, to bring local partners on board, including the private sector to drive skills and economic growth locally.

5.    Lessons from the pandemic

The pandemic demonstrated the ability of local government to be autonomous and make good, swift decisions, with strengthened relationships between stakeholders (including local partners and central government), better alignment of public services, and better use of data and evidence to ensure the effective, efficient allocation of resources. With the pandemic opening up remote education and working, councils will be key to linking communities with opportunities and partners locally and outside of urban centres. This will unlock positives for communities and develop a broader measure of what value means to people and places: there’s a strong link between inclusive, sustainable growth and alleviating poverty.

Read the full report by Localis

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