As councils wrestle with a funding squeeze, does anyone know what is a frontline service is?

As councils wrestle with a funding squeeze, does anyone know what is a frontline service is?

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Monday, January 21 2013

When is a council service not a frontline service but something else?

In the world of local government, the distinction is important because council chiefs never like to take decisions that adversely affect so-called frontline services, especially when it comes to funding.

(And it begs another: if the primary function of councils is to provide such services, why is it spending - and why has it spent - so much money on other apparently inessential stuff?)

One of the ways such a service is defined is to talk about it as separate from, or different to, council "back office" functions or "administrative services" - the services that do all the paperwork while those at the "front line" get on with the more important work.

Whether such a definition is valid is open to question.

Kent County Council has made great play of the fact that its latest budget proposals, incorporating £94m of savings, will not hit these services. On one level, the council's claim is reasonable.

But the problem is that it is actually quite difficult to tell exactly what impact these savings will have just at precisely this moment; even the most innocuous looking saving can end up having repercussions that not even the council's financial gurus had thought of.

And if you cut administrative jobs out of the equation, where does the burden then fall? Kent County Council's answer - and that of others - is to say that it is carrying out a programme of transformational activity in which services will be delivered differently and service users won't notice.

About one third of KCC's planned savings - £28m -  are to come from just such activity although it's hard to get beyond the headline figure to the detail of exactly how in the welter of budget information KCC issues about its spending plans.

The Conservative administration has also underlined how savings will be secured through a greater emphasis on preventative work, especially in adult and children's social care.

That seems perfectly sensible but it is not hard to find evidence of the scale of the challenge: an original intention to save £4m in the budget for looked after children has not proved achievable because of the continuing high demand for services.

And some believe that the austerity drive, welfare cuts and the on-going recession will only create more call on some services, particularly around care, not less.

Even KCC itself admits in its budget book, the government's relentless belt-tightening is really putting the squeeze on it: "The cumulative effect is that local government is working within an increasingly uncertain and challenging public service landscape."

"If the economy continues to show a slow recovery, the indicative position for 2014/115 and 2015/16 could get worse and we could face additional spending demands and/or further reduced income necessitating greater savings."


Despite giving the public some eight weeks to comment on its original budget savings of £60m, KCC is not embarking on a repeat exercise even though the savings have increased by more than half.

It says that as none of the new savings require an "equality impact assessment" there is no need for a full consultation. There is said to be some nervousness at County Hall that this may be challengeable but they have their collective fingers crossed.

Instead, views are being invited on the new budget up until the end of the month, a matter of a week and a bit.

But where you can feed in your views is hard to find. In fact, there doesn't appear to be anywhere on its website where you can unless I have missed something.

Answers anyone?

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Categories: Precept

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Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis

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