Will Tanner

Norfolk prepares for the Spending Review

Norfolk prepares for the Spending Review
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This is the latest in our series of posts on the Spending Review with Reform. A list of previous posts can be found here.

On Friday, Norfolk’s public service leaders gathered at a summit organised by Norman Lamb, MP for North Norfolk and Parliamentary and Political Advisor to the Deputy Prime Minister, to discuss the region’s preparation for the upcoming Spending Review. The meeting of MPs, council leaders, NHS and police representatives, as well as a number of external organisations such as Reform, was intended as a first step towards a regional solution to the expected 25 per cent cuts to Norfolk’s annual £7 billion total public spend.

 

The immediacy of the Spending Review created a broad acceptance of the need to, as Norman Lamb put it, “think afresh about how the money might be spent”. As the assembled leaders were keen to point out, Norfolk’s public services are already reducing waste in such areas as administration, staff and procurement. The County Council has budgeted savings of over £100 million from its £560 million revenue budget by 2012, while South Norfolk Council and North Norfolk Council have already found savings of 5 and 10 percent respectively since 2007. Similarly, NHS Norfolk has outlined initial savings of £45 million from an overall budget of £1.2 billion. Some way to go. Such savings are reinforced by a number of promising partnerships in place between councils and other bodies to share the use of back office resources, IT, audit and legal services.

 

However, as was borne out in the discussion, efficiency savings alone will not be sufficient to counter expected 25 percent cuts, and a fundamental reassessment of service provision is necessary. As Rob Whiteman, Managing Director of Local Government Innovation and Development, stressed, the spending review should be seen as an opportunity rather than a threat for precisely this reason. Norfolk needs to “get ahead of the curve” and “restructure, now and off its own back”.

 

As Reform found at a recent public consultation in Cannock Chase, the focus is currently on the scale and urgency of the cuts, at the expense of any discussion of meaningful reform. While some interesting themes did arise in Norfolk, such as a possible pilot scheme for place-based budgeting and a more joined-up approach to overlapping spending areas like health and social care, the onus was more on collaboration and efficiency than reform. One key opportunity for structural reform lies in local government moving from a provider to a purchaser or commissioner role in public service provision, thus introducing greater competition to public service delivery and with it increasing value for money and choice for users. The use of third sector or voluntary resources in public service provision also requires greater attention, especially in such areas as policing and social care where specialist skills and training are unnecessary in support roles.

 

The assembled local leaders did accept the need for strategic partnerships and coherent planning in their ongoing response to reduced budgets. As Simon Bailey, Deputy Chief Constable of Norfolk Police, argued, “the greatest risk in the next six months is drawing up plans in isolation. We need to plan together on the basis of a shared understanding”. Indeed, a key output of the Norfolk summit was the establishment of a regional steering panel comprised of representatives from local government, major public services, the voluntary sector and an MP. Crucially, this panel will coordinate a number of strategic plans, ranging from the sharing of data to drive performance and the mapping of resources to achieving more for less through collaborative partnerships and the use of commissioning.

 

As Norman Lamb argued at the close of the event “there is a great prize to be won” in the wake of the Spending Review, but it requires a “cast-iron commitment” from public service leaders and local government.

 

Will Tanner, Researcher at the independent, non-party think-tank Reform