Committee publishes report on decrease in local services amid coronavirus (COVID-19)

Committee publishes report on decrease in local services amid coronavirus (COVID-19)

The Public Accounts Committee has published a report explaining that coronavirus (COVID-19) has caused reductions in services for local people, despite council tax rising, meaning that individuals could be ‘paying more for less’. The report acknowledges the fast actions of the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHLG) in response to coronavirus, however it states that the MHLG was too optimistic about the resilience of local government. Further, the report notes the impact of coronavirus in significantly decreasing local authority income and hindering financial planning and reform.

The recommendations from the report include:

• the MHLG should capture its learning from coronavirus and write to the Committee by the end of 2021 establishing how it will prepare a flexible framework for responding quickly to the implications of severe national emergencies for local government

• the MHLG should draw on the experience of collecting data during the coronavirus to improve its regular collections of local government financial data

• the MHLG needs to examine its arrangements, and make changes as necessary, for oversight of financial risk in the sector and ensure that lessons from the financial issues at Croydon Council have been learned

• HM Treasury, the Department for Education, the Department of Health & Social Care, the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy, the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs, and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport, in co-operation with the MHLG, should write to the Committee by October 2021 setting how they will improve, and then maintain, their understanding of the operational realities of local government finance and the financial pressures authorities face

• in discussion with the National Audit Office, within three months the MHLG should find a way to share information relevant to financial risk in the sector, including about individual local authorities, while indicating on what basis it can or cannot be shared further

Chair of the Public Accounts Committee, Meg Hillier, comments ‘The national pandemic has thrown up many challenges for local councils, not least that parts of Whitehall did not always work with them when drawing up national schemes… MHCLG’s inability to properly collect or share information means that it had to quickly set up a system to do this. That councils could deliver quickly is a credit to local finance teams but begs the question of why this was not in place before the pandemic and underlines the committee’s long-standing concerns about the department’s knowledge of the sector’s financial challenges.’

The report can be viewed here.

Source: Paying more for less: Councils to cut services even as tax bills rise after Covid

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