Responding to COVID-19: insight, support and guidance

A Budget isn't what's needed

19-02-2020

By Rob Whiteman CBE, CIPFA CEO

With the general election won and a decisive majority in place, we now know the government will deliver its first Budget on Wednesday 11 March. The news is full of predictions and speculation of what we can expect from the chancellor. I however shall be making no such predictions.

Sajid Javid has promised that the upcoming Budget will mark the start of a “decade of renewal”. Indeed, the Budget may well offer another positive PR opportunity to a government already riding high having successfully delivered our exit from the EU. We could see some quick injections of cash, particularly targeted on the northern and Midlands seats the Conservatives captured at the December election. But the simple fact of the matter is that a Budget isn’t what is needed.

A Budget by its nature is short-term, covering only the coming year. While further funding in key areas is always welcome, it does not solve the systemic funding crises facing many areas of the public sector, including social care, housing and last year’s climate emergency declarations.

CIPFA has been banging the drum for greater certainty for public service providers, including local authorities, for a number of years. Without wishing to sound like a broken record, certainty is vital for the prudent management of local taxpayers’ hard-earned money.

It simply isn’t possible to plan for the future with little to no view of income beyond the next 12 months, let alone make provisions for rising demand or shifting priorities.

So I won’t be making predictions for the upcoming Budget. While there are certainly things I would like to see, the main thing is confirmation of a comprehensive spending review that takes a long-term, four to five year view. I challenge the government to be bold in its commitments. You’ve won your majority: now make it count.

This article first appeared in the MJ.