Decade of decline

Conservative-led governments have presided over a massive decline in public services. The reality of “Nothing’s Working” is borne out by the annual public services performance tracker undertaken by The Institute for Government (IfG) and Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy (CIPFA). They reviewed nine key public services and found them generally to be in a worse state than they were in 2010, before the period of austerity. Performance is not forecast to return to even pre-pandemic levels before the next election.

Those sectors reviewed are: general practice, hospitals, adult social care, children’s social care, neighbourhood services, schools, police, criminal courts and prisons.

The main findings are:

• After a decade of public spending constraints, services entered the pandemic with longer waiting times, restrictions on access, growing public dissatisfaction, missed targets and other signs of falling standards.

• Nearly all the services reviewed are currently experiencing pandemic backlogs, rising demand and workforce shortages. Spending increases in public services are not enough to tackle backlogs and meet newly arising demand.

• While the 2021 spending review was generous, relative to those since 2010, with budgets projected to increase by 3.4% per year on average for the nine services covered in the analysis, its value has fallen in real terms to around 1.5%, due to inflation and higher pay awards. This is unlikely to meet growing demands and recovery from the impact of the pandemic. Staff shortages and low morale are likely to worsen due to below inflation pay rises and the cost of living crisis.

• Covid-19 undoubtedly made things worse, however the performance problems highlighted are structural and interconnected, with no easy answers or quick fixes.

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