protecting statutory officers


by Alison Scott, CIPFA's Assistant Director, Local Government Finance 

Despite the obvious benefits that an earlier local government finance settlement would bring, there is considerable speculation that this year's announcement will be particularly late. Spare a thought for finance officers and their service colleagues across the country who will be putting on the hot towels to try to find the formula which best balances service and financial pressures.

In addition to the late settlement and the certainty of funding reductions, this year's challenges are heightened by a new financial framework to give effect to the Government's policies of business rates retention and localisation of council tax benefit. This is necessarily complex territory and there will undoubtedly be a few teething problems, if not worse, as CFOs get to grips with the new systems. Cutting the budget for midnight oil would not be a good idea!

The Audit Commission's recent "Tough Times" report has confirmed that to date most councils have managed austerity remarkably well. This echoes similar conclusions in CIPFA's "The Long Downturn". But both reports make the point that the task is becoming significantly more difficult year on year.

Against this backcloth it seemed particularly poor timing for the Secretary of State to announce plans to remove the special provisions recognising that statutory officers do such difficult jobs which, from time to time, are vulnerable to the political crossfire of councils. Sometimes messengers get shot simply for bearing bad news. It is the same for advisers, and that really does need to be acknowledged and appropriately protected against.