WHITEHALL is denying English communities the public services they deserve, local authority leaders have been told.
Sir Merrick Cockell, chairman of the Local Government Association called for a radical overhaul of the way public money is distributed and spent to deliver a fair deal for English residents, boost economic growth and "completely rewire" the public sector.
He made the demand in a keynote address to more than 1,200 local government leaders, councillors and government ministers at the LGA annual conference on Tuesday (3 July).
It follows the launch of a report – Rewiring Public Services – setting out 10 ideas to improve public services, save money and get Britain's economy growing again.
The speech follows the announcement last week of a further round of cuts to public spending in 2015/16, including a 10% cut to local government's funding allocation.
This cut comes on top of the 33% real terms reduction in council funding which is being made across the 2011/12 to 2014/15 comprehensive spending review period.
Ten key steps must be undertaken to deliver the necessary reform, said Sir Merrick. These included creating a single England Office by merging six government departments.
Those departments are he Department for Communities and Local Government, Department for Transport, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Department of Energy and Climate Change, Department for Culture, Media and Sport – and parts of the Home Office.
Sir Merrick said this would "tear down the barriers" between Whitehall departments that were reinforcing inefficiency in the public sector and ensure that England was represented in discussions over funding allocations across the UK.
He also called for the scrapping the outdated Barnett formula – under which Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland have taken proportionally less severe cuts in public spending than those applied to England – and replace it with a needs-based funding formula.
This wpould ensure public money is spent where it is most needed, said Sir Merrick.
Other demands included the delivery of a fair, secure and long-term funding settlement for local government. This should include the delivery of a multi-year settlement tied to the life of the Parliament to aid financial planning.
Sir Merrick said: "We are currently trying to tackle 21 century problems with an outdated Victorian-era bureaucracy.
"This is costing us money and reducing the overall quality of the services people receive.
"To save the amounts of money austerity requires we must reduce demands on high cost institutions like hospitals, prisons and the welfare system.
"Government must support the services which generate local growth and jobs, help the elderly stay independent longer, and ensure children are ready to learn when they go to school."
Devolution of decision making to local areas was needed to get government agencies, councils, the police, head teachers and health professionals working together to design services that work for their communities
Sir Merrick said: "This will ultimately save money and lead to better services."
Sign up to our newsletter to receive all the latest news and updates.