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IFG - New money will not be enough to raise public service standards


As the country prepares for the next prime minister, a new report finds that for the first time in years, the government may have pledged enough money to maintain standards in most public services. But more money will be needed to raise standards over the next five years.

In adult social care, the service facing the most pressure, any government would have to spend nearly £1 billion more just to keep pace with demand.

Published  by the IfG and CIPFA, Performance Tracker 2019 projects the demand and spending on nine public services for the next five years: GPs, hospitals, adult social care, children’s social care, neighbourhood services, police, prisons, courts, and schools.

The report’s authors express serious concerns about rising prison violence and about the scope of local government services despite cash injections from the Johnson and May governments.

The report estimates that the government and local authorities will spend £191.1 billion on these nine services by 2023/24. While this may be enough to meet demand (except in adult social care), this will not be enough for the government to make improvements, such as better care for cancer patients and reduced violence and self-harm in prisons. 

The report finds that all public services analysed have seen some decline in performance – either in their quality (the standard of public service provided and how satisfied users are) or scope (the range of services provided and the number of people able to access them).

Demand is rising particularly quickly for health and care services because of the ageing population, an increase in number of people with multiple health conditions and rising life expectancy for people with physical and learning disabilities.

Over the past nine years of curbs on public spending, most public services have done more with less by limiting staff pay increases and prompting workers to be more productive. But public services will find it difficult to sustain any efficiencies made now the public sector pay cap has been lifted and with many services struggling to recruit and retain staff.

Nick Davies, Institute for Government programme director, said:

“The parties are coming into this election with big promises on public service spending. But before they turn on the taps, they need to be honest with the public about the trade-offs they are making between the level of taxation and the performance of public services.”

Graham Atkins, Institute for Government senior researcher, said:

“The government may, for the first time since austerity began, have pledged enough money to keep up with service demand in most areas. But the next government – whoever heads it – will have to spend more than is currently planned to improve services.”

Rob Whiteman, CIPFA CEO, said:

“It is simply impossible to make good spending decisions without understanding how service performance is affected. Yet despite overwhelming evidence that service performance is declining across the board, government continues to make short term spending decisions that do nothing to ease growing demand pressures on public services.

“With a general election on the way we would urge the new government, whichever it may be, to fundamentally rethink how public services are funded with a focus on long term sustainability.”

Notes to editors

  1. Full report is available on our website
  2. The Institute for Government is an independent think tank that works to make government more effective.
  3. CIPFA, the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy, is the professional body for people in public finance. CIPFA leads the way in public finance globally, standing up for sound public financial management and good governance around the world as the leading commentator on managing and accounting for public money.
  4. For more information, including data to reproduce any charts, please contact / 0785 031 3791.

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