Public Accounts Committee Cites South East Councils

Friday, 15 March, 2024

The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) has today published its report on Levelling up funding to local government.

The heavyweight Select Committee is responsible for scrutinising Government projects seeking value for money.

The report finds that only £1.24bn from the Government’s three funds as of September 2023 has been spent, out of a total of £10.47bn allocated – meaning just over 10% has been spent.

As well as the climate of Covid-19 and inflation, the report also refers to an “optimism bias in favour of so-called ‘shovel-ready’ projects” – and a “worrying lack of transparency in DLUHC’s approach to awarding funds”.

South East Council’s contribution to the report has featured in the Local Government Chronicle (LGC).

“According to the report, the committee was told by South East Councils that the bidding process for the funds examined had led to a “begging bowl culture” which proritised the “ever-changing demands of ministers” over effective long-term planning.” – LGC

SEC is listed alongside the Local Government Association (LGA) as one of two sources of published written evidence.

Page 12 of the report reads:

The changing application process
11. Evidence we received from the South East Councils told us that the bidding process for funds had led to a ‘begging bowl’ culture where Councils were required to spend too much time and money to meet ever-changing demands of ministers, rather than planning for the long-term to truly deliver for their communities.” – PAC

SEC contributed written evidence in December 2023; SEC Chair Cllr Nick Adams-King said:

“Any council would welcome much needed funding to level up left behind areas in the South East.

However, the means by which levelling up funding is allocated to local government in England is counterproductive.

The South East of England is frequently seen as a wealthy land of green pastures lacking financial woes.

The reality is that councils here are under more pressure than ever to deliver high quality services in a region with a high average cost of living, eye watering house prices, and significant pockets of deprivation.

The whole system of “beauty contest bidding” in levelling up funding is bad for local government.

It contributes to a “begging bowl culture” where councils are required to spend too much time and money to meet the ever-changing demands of Ministers, rather than plan for the long-term to truly deliver for their communities.

We will say it once again; it’s time to recognise that the funding model for English Local Government is broken.
The answer is devolution of fiscal powers and responsibilities to councils to govern from the bottom-up, not more micromanagement from Whitehall.”

Our full submission can be accessed here.