Mr Pickles uses the ‘P word’
It is turning into the elephant in the room. As around 40% of English councils increase local tax both Eric Pickles and his junior colleague, Brandon Lewis, have uttered the ‘p –word’. No, they haven’t been rude to John Humphries, it is procurement. The line coming from CLG is now simple – you don’t need to increase your council tax if you sort out procurement.
So is this political posturing or are they onto something? Opinions are mixed amongst the big hitters. Colin Cram has been busily telling one Parliamentary Committee that Mr P might be on to something, while the equally influential Peter Smith does not think that Colin’s ideas have wings.
The truth is likely to be somewhere in-between. If structured in a different way, local government could easily reduce its £60bn annual expenditure by at least 10%. However, Peter rightly raises the questions of local accountability and suggests caution on excessive centralisation.
We are now entering a policy of ‘needs must’. The UK financial position is dire and councils are looking at some serious reductions in their budgets from 2014/15 onwards. Something has to give and taking a radical approach to procurement may be the best option. Are local people really going to complain when the huge corporations that milk local councils each year suddenly see their revenues slashed? If central government can negotiate as one body, the Crown, why can’t local government?