Government is quietly shifting costs of public services on to individuals. Where government can get people to pay directly for services – from garden waste to legal aid – it is increasingly doing so.
The report, written in partnership with the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy, warns that important choices and trade-offs between spending and performance have not been made explicit to the public. Locally, social care is crowding out other spending, such as environmental services. Nationally, health is crowding out the rest.
A ‘concern rating’ included in the report sets out the cost and performance of nine public services. It highlights serious concerns about prisons, adult social care and neighbourhood services. Schools have faced the smallest overall financial squeeze since 2010. But schools’ budgets have started to be squeezed more tightly over the past couple of years and could be where the Government looks for future cuts.
The report says that public sector efficiency has risen since 2010, helped by the public sector pay cap. But productivity has gone up mainly by doing ‘more of the same’ rather than through reform. Loosening the pay cap may not solve problems of staff recruitment and retention.
The Government needs to address openly big questions about the future of public services. The easiest savings have been made and choices are getting harder. This report shows that governments cannot continue for long to provide the same services by simply muddling through, with dollops of emergency cash. Tough decisions will have to be made: whether tax increases, lower expectations of services, more individual contributions or radical service changes.