CIPFA Statement: Our public services are at breaking point - the Autumn Statement needs to signal a radical change, not more of the same


Rob Whiteman, CIPFA CEO, said:

"At the last Conservative Party conference, the strapline was ‘Long-term decisions for a brighter future’ – however we have yet to see this translate into anything more than the usual short-termism in policy announcements. So far, new faces in the Cabinet do not mean new policies or new ideas – and that is what is needed, and what we hope to see come from the Autumn Statement. 

"For the public sector, whatever decisions are made about tax cuts, options for business growth and the inflation figure used for benefits, the squeeze will be to the public sector burden of the cost of living crisis that sits with local government and public services. We see a number of local authorities reporting extreme financial stress.

"This is why we need a long-overdue radical change to tackle the multiple crises that have driven our public services to the brink – crises of long-term under-funding and an old funding model while demand for services continues to rise. We have an exodus of talent, industrial action in the NHS and difficulties in recruitment when we need professional and driven workers more than ever. And the ongoing short-termism in policy that favours headlines over long-term solutions and preventative measures, where even announced policies are not implemented. We have a public sector at breaking point and are calling for an openness to new ideas not more of the same. If the Autumn Statement delivers more of the same, it will be failing our public services at their time of greatest need.

"In our recent Performance Tracker, we found that the public sector has not been able to recover since the pandemic. In fact, eight out of the nine public services featured performed worse in 2023 than on the eve of the pandemic. These are not isolated problems in individual services, but rather structural system-wide failures. They have been caused by a lack of adequate funding and historic underinvestment in capital infrastructure. There are some clear steps that can be taken to address this.

"To create a better funding and planning environment, as finance professions in local government we urge Government to announce: more fiscal freedoms locally linked to better local accountability; refined and fairer distribution pending reform; less ringfencing or individual pots; and that Government tackle local audit by giving the FRC the powers it needs to improve the system and create ARGA at the quickest possible moment that legislative time allows. We remind the Chancellor that NNDR is collected by local government, but HMT and the national exchequer keep half. Councils need this resource to fund the rising demands and costs of homelessness, social services, and special needs. 

"The cycle of “crisis-cash-repeat” funding needs to be broken and replaced by long-term settlements for our most essential services. 

"In health and social care, CIPFA calls for accelerated workforce reform, longer-term funding certainty for health and a reform of the adult social care funding system. Action must be taken to restore public trust in the police – investment in new ways of working and digital expertise to tackle the increase in criminal charging and scrutiny to rebuild a workforce hit by scandals and political attacks.

"In the week before COP28, Government needs to stop flip-flopping over net zero targets and provide certainty, and boost capital investment to support public sector plans to address climate change and resilience.

"Financial leaders and managers in the public sector need to make long-term decisions, risk assessments and recommendations with the best possible information available to them and hire a workforce capable and competent to deliver. They are dealing with a broken system. The Autumn Statement has the opportunity to set out some clear steps towards putting it back together again with more longer-term certainty. Without this, this Government’s ‘brighter future’ will fail, again, to materialise."

Notes to editor

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