It will take time for the real consequences of Rishi Sunk’s 27 October spending review to emerge. But here’s TLC’s take, so far…
First all-round reaction was surprise and relief. Instead of yet another kick in the teeth, all departments got a modest real terms increase. For local councils, that’s 3% a year extra for the next three years.
This, says the LGA (Local Government Association) means they should be able to keep services at the 2019-20 level at least until 2022-23. That’s something – if you think everything (including adult social care) is fine as it is…
Hopes of getting extra money lie in a confusing welter of special funds. These come from every government department, and can help fund anything from high streets to child welfare, business to education, crime to transport, “decarbonisation” to arts, heritage to health…
All these are awarded after competitive bidding. And public libraries are relevant to every one of them. But only if they have the time and resources and skills to make repeated bids for scores of different pots.
It’s a daft way to run things. It’s a huge waste of council resources. It sets locality against locality. And can it deliver coherent development? Will government departments liaise with each other when they decide who gets grants?
And don’t forget that austerity has seen regular complaints that the governing party favours its own key constituencies.
Apart from these scattered money pots, public libraries ought to benefit from “levelling up”. This is seen as so crucial that the local government department has been re-named the Department for Levelling Up, Housing & Communities.
Nobody yet knows what it really means in practice. Until we see the promised White Paper, we won’t know where the money will go – to life-enhancing work with local people, or the big spectacular projects that politicians like so much?
And we’ll still, it seems, be cursed with the bid-for-everything culture.
The LGA, at least, is starting to object. It says: “The competitive bidding process means that scarce council resources have been diverted at a time when local capacity continues to be stretched by multiple pressures? in local areas.
“We would welcome further steps towards defragmenting all local funding arrangements to help maximise the strength of councils’ local leadership, which was demonstrated so strongly during the pandemic.”