Friday, 27 January 2012

Cuts and independence

The first systematic review of the real impact of public spending cuts on local authorities has been published by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation . It finds that the most deprived local authorities have been hardest hit by the cuts. It also finds conflict within local authorities over whether the needs of vulnerable people should be prioritised.

Serving deprived communities in a recession looked at 25 local authorities and provides an early insight into how local government in England is coping with the severe contraction in grant income implemented after the 2010 Comprehensive Spending Review. Analysis of the patterns of spending cuts show greater cuts (in both proportionate and absolute terms) in the most deprived authorities, compared with the most affluent.

I think it is interesting , and alarming that this points to conflict over whether the needs of vulnerable people should be prioritised. Only half the sample had adopted 'protecting the needs of the most vulnerable client or communities' as a principle guiding budgetary decision-making and just two suggested that 'protecting deprived neighbourhoods' was a priority.

The report suggests that the consequences of the cuts for disadvantaged people in the poorest areas will also quite possibly be overlooked. Local authorities are struggling to assess the impact of the cuts they make to services, due to lack of capacity. The authors believe that the cuts made by local government in future should be monitored to ensure that the needs of the poorest and most vulnerable people are addressed.

This points to a continuing and growing role for our sector in highlighting the damage to the most marginalised and getting something done about it. I'm pleased to say that many are doing just that. For example the big national children's charities have been at the forefront of protests about potential damage to vulnerable children. And to those pundits who say that contracts have dulled independence I say look at the work of Barnados , Action for Children and the Children's Society. They have large contracts with the state. It does not stop them from speaking out. Indeed one could argue they have been more vocal than the NSPCC who derive most of their income from donations.

The problem with the debate on independence is that it is often conducted by armchair philosophers in an evidence free climate. I would argue , as does Victor Adebowale ,that involvement with service delivery has increased the efficacy of our campaigning because we know sharp end how contracts are working for our beneficiaries.

But whether it is local third sector bodies or national charities it is our role to speak truth to power. And we have the evidence from this report to do just that. ACEVO itself will not shy away from arguing for civil society and pointing to Emperor's no clothes; trenchant but I hope always with an alternative solution. Whinging without remedies is the preserve of the playground.

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