Responding to COVID-19: insight, support and guidance
Rob Whiteman, Chief Executive of CIPFA, said:
"Today’s was a surprisingly jocular Budget which, despite a frank outlining of the UK’s abysmal productivity and growth forecasts, provided additional support to some of the UK’s most pressing services.
"Overall, the chancellor’s speech was confident, technical and safe. It avoided any specific personal taxes that might cause immediate issues for taxpayers and was seemingly free of the gimmicks that often catch a chancellor out once the dust begins to settle.
"House buyers were arguably the biggest winners, with £44bn investment to boost building and the removal of stamp duty on first time buyers (however, the OBR suggests that removing stamp duty could lead to a slight increase in house prices). Change to the HRA cap is a welcome and a previously non-negotiable move that could offer a glimpse of flexibility that should benefit authorities wanting to invest in building, but the cap of £1bn might not have a significant impact at the national level. The additional council tax charge on empty properties is a simple means to try to influence a better use of limited resources, but I’d question whether this will benefit all parts of the country equally. It is welcome news that the chancellor has responded to the chorus of demands he has faced to give the NHS an immediate cash injection. Although the £2.8bn to be allocated to frontline services does fall short of the £4bn NHS leaders called for, and is therefore unlikely to make the financial position of the health service significantly less precarious.
"There were several other welcome additions to this year’s budget. Reforms to welfare will provide a much needed degree of security for those who are the most vulnerable during this period of transition. Breathing life back into the devolution agenda with investments for metro mayors and the Northern Powerhouse, alongside investment in teaching, skills and digital technology will hopefully go a long way to reinvigorating the country’s productivity.
"However, our chief concerns lay in what was left out of Philip Hammond’s speech; specifically support for adult and children’s social care. CIPFA’s survey of local government CFOs shows these to be the foremost financial pressures and service concerns on councils right now.
"The £3.5bn additional capital promised to STPs over the current Parliament may go some way to underwriting the longer term transformational actions needed to put health on a more sustainable footing. But looking at the whole health and care system, the pressures on children’s and adults’ social care have been swept under the carpet and will continue to intensify, with knock-on effects on the NHS. Indeed, we can also expect that the 4% increase in the National Living Wage, while welcome indeed for those workers, feed through to considerable extra pressure on the sector, as councils will have to pay significantly more for care workers.
"Finally, this was the government’s Brexit Budget, preparing the country for a future outside the EU. With no contingency plan in place, a hard Brexit is set to be a logistical nightmare. And as the chance of a ‘no deal’ scenario is becoming increasingly likely, it is no surprise that the government has allocated an extra £3bn to support the UK’s withdrawal from the EU."
CIPFA, the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy, is the professional body for people in public finance. CIPFA shows the way in public finance globally, standing up for sound public financial management and good governance around the world as the leading commentator on managing and accounting for public money.