New report reveals pressure on public services


The UK faces a combination of failing public services and breached spending controls unless urgent action is taken, warns a new report.

Performance Tracker, published today by the Institute for Government (IfG) and CIPFA (the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy), finds that until recently the government managed to maintain the quality of public services while controlling spending. But the government’s own data clearly shows its original approach had run out of steam by 2015.

In the upcoming Budget, the chancellor must show that his decisions about spending are based on a realistic assessment of the performance of public services that can survive public scrutiny.

The report uses government data to examine five key public services: hospitals, adult social care, police, prisons and schools. It says the government now risks bouncing from spending crisis to crisis, against the backdrop of contentious Brexit negotiations.

Adult social care and hospitals are being pushed to breaking point and, in the case of prisons, beyond it. The pressures are easy to identify:

  • People routinely wait longer for critical hospital services such as A&E and cancer treatments.
  • Delays in transferring people from hospitals into social care have risen by 40% since 2014.
  • Violence in prisons has risen sharply since 2014, with assaults on staff rising by 61% in two years.

The report makes several recommendations, including that assumptions behind spending decisions should be subject to independent scrutiny. Governments of all shades have long promised to transform public services but these ambitions have never truly been realised.

To counter this, the report suggests government should consider creating an “Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) for public spending”, to help embed efficiency within public sector decision making and prevent wishful thinking. 

Julian McCrae, IfG Deputy Director, said:

“As we’ve seen with prisons, social care and now potentially hospitals, the government risks getting into a cycle of crisis, cash, repeat. This report is not a call for more money. It is a call for better financial planning and reforms that are robust enough to survive public scrutiny.

“It is fundamental to increasing the effectiveness of these public services that ministers, officials and the public know how well government is performing, and use this information to guide decisions.”

Rob Whiteman, CIPFA Chief Executive, said:

 “We know that for some parts of the public sector resources are stretched and that those working to deliver services are up against it. What is crucial is that we make the best possible use of the funds available. This means having a thorough understanding of how organisations are run and services are provided, using this information to think strategically and creatively about improving policy decision making, which will ultimately improve service delivery.”


Notes to editors 

  1. The report can be found here or available upon request. This first edition of Performance Tracker provides a data-driven assessment of the government’s performance in one crucial area: running public services.
  2. The Institute for Government (IfG) is an independent think tank working to make government more effective.
  3. CIPFA, the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy () is one of the leading professional accountancy bodies in the UK and the only one which specialises in the public services. It is responsible for the education and training of professional accountants and for their regulation through the setting and monitoring of professional standards.