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Budget announces new efficiency programme

19/03/14

Details of an 'ambitious new efficiency programme' will be revealed by this autumn, the government said today. The new programme is "to deliver savings from 2016-17 and across the next parliament", the budget statement revealed.

It also announces that the Government Property Unit "will increase its work with local areas on better use of public sector assets". This work will focus on opportunities for cross public sector working, efficiency and growth.

According to the statement, the government "is looking now to further reduce the waste and complexity of public services, whilst protecting outcomes for individuals. This could include reshaping public services to better support the unemployed into work, vulnerable children and young people, people experiencing mental health problems, and in the criminal justice system, while continuing to bear down on costs for the taxpayer."

A series of seminars led by the Treasury "will engage with key stakeholders to consider opportunities
for further reform, and to develop ideas to support further fiscal consolidation in the next parliament."

The statement is light on details of specific reforms. However it reveals that the Troubled Families Programme will be accelerated, to start working with up to 40,000 additional families in 2014-15."

Despite the announcement of projects such as the "garden city" at Ebbsfleet, the budget had a cool reception from local government. Local Government Association chairman Sir Merrick Cockell said: "Much more can be done to build new homes, create jobs and stimulate the economy if local government's hands were untied by the chancellor to drive this through at a local level. We will continue pressing government to unlock the potential of local areas to solve these national problems through putting local businesses, colleges and councils in control of tackling youth unemployment and giving local authorities greater freedom to invest in new housing and infrastructure."

While the budget has not brought further spending cuts for local government, it has not changed the fact that the next two years will be the toughest yet for people who use and rely upon the services which councils provide, Cockell said. "By next year, council budgets will have been cut by 40 per cent from where they were at the start of this parliament. As the economy improves, people will increasingly start to question why councils are having to reduce and withdraw from providing the services that underpin their daily lives.

"If we are to avoid an upturn in the economy coinciding with a decline in public services, we need nothing less than a fundamental reform of the way the public sector works and an honest reappraisal of how public services are provided and paid for in post-austerity Britain."

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