Thursday, February 26, 2009

Accounts Commission misses the point on local government

Thursday 26 February 2009

UNISON – the union representing staff delivering local services - has slammed today’s Accounts Commission annual overview report on local government, as piecemeal and inaccurate.

Matt Smith, UNISON’s Scottish Secretary, said:

“Unfortunately the Accounts Commission’s report skips over the significant cost implications of local councils complying with the law and delivering equal pay which could run into millions of pounds; mistakenly advocates the use of shared service to achieve ‘urgent savings’ when all the evidence shows that shared services based on cost savings don’t work*; advocates an increased concentration on the failed mantra of ‘competitive’ services; and recommends increasing the bureaucracy to collect more accounts information rather than addressing the increased need for public services in a recession.”

The union also points to the irony that an earlier report by the Accounts Commission slated the public services for unplanned and unmonitored overuse of consultants, whereas this one advocates concentration on shared services – where consultants are increasingly used as a prop to make the case.

Matt Smith said:

“We have tried to get information from both central government and the local government Improvement Service on the use of consultants. Both have refused our Freedom of Information requests – central government because they didn’t keep a record of the work companies do, and the Improvement Service because they were not covered by the FOI(S) Act. We do know that consultants are strongly involved in promoting shared services, including some prominent failures, and wonder that this contradiction hasn’t occurred to the Accounts Commission.”

“It is a pity that at a time when local councils face significant challenges from the current economic crisis and underfunding from central government, they are not being better served by the body set up to overview their performance. The Accounts Commission can surely do better than advocating local government being sidetracked into expensive reorganisation of services, risking increased waste of money on failed shared service development, and ignoring a huge cost implication for local government.”


Note for editors:
*As an example of the problems with Shared Services, the shared IT services project between the Department for Transport and its seven agencies was supposed to be up and running last year and save £57m. By this year only two agencies and the DfT were using it and the costs have risen by £81m.