For months now, talks of budget cuts have been rife among council departments, especially social care. Many councils are already tightening their belts in anticipation of big cuts in 2011, when the next comprehensive spending review is scheduled for.
However, all the talk has thus far been based on guesswork. At the National Commissioning Conference in June, there was talk of public sector cuts of up to 10%, which was met with sage nods rather than gasps of shock, but it was emphasised that this was only a guess.
Meanwhile, the Institute of Fiscal Studies says that total departmental spending will have to fall by 3.2 % a year for 3 years if the government’s target of halving the budget deficit within 4 years is to be met.
The only certainties given by the government so far are that police, education and health budgets will be protected. There is no such guarantee for social care, and the lack of new money made available – thus far – to help drive the recommendations in the recent Social Care Task Force report seem to indicate the prevailing wind.
However, the guesswork is set to end, according to the Guardian. It carries a report saying that Chancellor Alastair Darling has committed to publish more internal estimates about range of departmental spending cuts the Treasury expects to make in the next 3-4 years after a grilling from the Treasury select committee yesterday. This may extend to being more open with the public about spending assumptions for the years post 2010-11 as well.
Anything that gives people – inside local councils and outside – a clearer picture of what is, or will be, happening is to be welcomed. People are more accepting of cuts when they are given the facts of why it is happening, rather than just being told that it is.
Everyone knows that cuts are coming, but knowing how much will be an advantage. It can inform public debate and ensure councils have a better idea of just how swingeing the cuts will be.