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Taking a broader perspective…

The culture of cuts…

By Carl Packman

Carl is a Labour party supporter and works as a researcher in children’s policy.

A culture of cut now, save later is being appropriated by our Libservative coalition government, but not only does this flatly contradict the best thinking around on how to achieve better and more efficient public services, one suspects it is being executed without any thinking at all.

Looking at how so-called efficiency savings are being carried out, it is hard to judge how the ends will justify the means.

In the Department for Education, for example, £311m in cuts to the area based grant (ABG) – a general grant allocated directly to local authorities as additional revenue funding to areas –has been left up to children’s service leaders themselves to distribute. Services such as Connexions, sustainable travel to school, the children’s fund and education health partnerships, all funded by the grant, will have to compete against one another to be spared the severest cutting.

For services that are not so lucky, they will either have to rely on funding from other secure budgets like from schools (which will be significantly smaller than before) or be reduced to nothing.

Councils facing at least a 2% cut in grant funding include Barrow-in-Furness (£245,000), Bolsover (£212,000), Burnley (£303,000), Great Yarmouth (£308,000), Hyndburn (£244,000), Norwich (£355,000), Pendle (£269,000), and Preston (£390,000).

Bigger authorities such as Birmingham face losing £12.627m, Kent £8.789m, Lancashire £7.936m, Essex £7.559m, and Leeds £7.411m.

Services for children in care, provided by the Care Matters programme which is funded through the area based grant, is an avenue of particular concern. The programme, which is based on the outcomes of the Care Matters White Paper of 2007, secures extra educational and financial arrangements to promote the success of children, who have historically achieved less than their non-looked after peers.

In the not so distant past, the education of children in care was hardly thought about, let alone be considered enough to warrant extra funding, tuition and designated staff in schools. Since 2007 that has changed considerably, but actions by the coalition government have sent council professionals who serve vulnerable children in a pessimistic spin.

The government have said plenty on how they intend to wield the axe as contribution towards lowering the deficit, but less about how they will safeguard or replace services that have done more to raise aspiration, which in turn has secured more social value than I suspect certain ministers have given credit to.

It demonstrates just how little the government has grasped the logic of spending to invest. In September 2009, Action for Children, in partnership with the New Economics Foundation, published a report entitled Backing the Future which posited that investment in early intervention and universal services for children and families would save the economy £486bn over 20 years.

The report presents evidence that for every £1 invested in targeted services in crime prevention, mental health services, family breakdown prevention, and against drug abuse and obesity, a saving for the UK economy would reach around £7.60 – £9.20. A further £1 invested in an Action for Children children’s centre, specialising in identifying and avoiding family breakdown issues early on, would result in a social return of about £4.60.

Early intervention addressed in Action for Children children’s centres like the one in Wheatley, Doncaster, actually do more to prevent children going into care in their later years, which has its own problems, such as with attachment, how young people relate to other people, which can cause significant problems later on, such as the ones identified by Action for Children’s targeted services (crime, mental health, drug abuse and obesity).

The present government misses the logic promoted by these findings, and this can be seen by the way they’ve handled the cuts to area based grants.

If big society means dumping problems on individual authorities instead of looking at what provisions are needed and what provisions can be scrapped, based on need, then big society doesn’t sound particularly efficient at all. I suggest we scrap that.

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One Response

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Jane Watkinson, Broad Left Blogging. Broad Left Blogging said: The culture of cuts…: http://wp.me/pXkBd-Z […]

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