Large majority must deliver boost for public services


By Rob Whiteman, CIPFA CEO

And so here we are. The British public have spoken, and spoken loudly. The new Conservative government comes into power today with the largest single majority since Thatcher, providing a clear mandate for the prime minister’s policy agenda.

Following such a decisive victory, we can be pretty confident that Brexit will happen. The prime minister has pledged to bring his deal to Parliament for ratification before Christmas, meaning we could indeed be leaving with a deal by the end of January.

However, this deal includes the caveat that any implementation period will not be extended beyond December 2020. So if a trade agreement has not been reached with the EU by the end of next year, we may still face a no-deal scenario.

Public service leaders have been clear that leaving without a deal will cause years of economic upheaval and present a real and present threat to public services. The new government must therefore be clear in stating how the public sector will be supported to ensure services do not suffer as a result of our exit from the EU.

But this election was not fought on Brexit alone. The Conservative party made a number of spending pledges in their manifesto and only time will tell whether these promises will translate into meaningful change.

It goes without saying that action is needed as a matter of urgency to set public services back on a sustainable footing. However, there are questions around whether the Conservative pledges will achieve this. The manifesto also showed little follow-through on the party’s previous promises to tackle social care, with the proposed £5bn of social care funding merely a short-term package.

Their overall manifesto roughly maintains funding for public services at, or just above, current levels. However, where additional funding has been pledged, it must be remembered that new resources often come specifically designated for specific new activities. This is unhelpful at a time when public services are already lacking the resources to cover existing commitments.  

The Prime Minister has promised to deliver a budget within his first 100 days in government, which will be a critical first step in demonstrating what his manifesto looks like in practice. We would hope that this is followed by timely spending review costed for the long term. It’s high time councils, the NHS and other public services were granted the necessary certainty to deliver sustainable services now and into the future.

This article first appeared in Public Finance. 

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