Page last updated at 16:38 GMT, Friday, 20 November 2009

Needless council bureaucracy 'wasting 4.5bn a year'

Elderly woman being cared for in a nursing home
The LGA says money could be saved to improve care for the elderly

Needless bureaucracy is costing councils in England £4.5bn a year - money that could be spent on vital local services, according to a report.

The Local Government Association said there should be "a bonfire of red tape" to free up taxpayers' money.

It said increased running costs and staff numbers in recent years had left every household in England paying at least £11 more than necessary.

The Lib Dems and Tories said Labour had tied councils up in "red tape".

School places

The LGA, which represents more than 350 councils in England, said £1.5bn could be saved by slashing the running costs of seven Whitehall departments which local authorities deal with.

Complying with centrally-imposed "data burdens", such as performance indicators, was wasting £400m a year, it said, while a further £1bn was been squandered through "unnecessary policy activity".

Giving councils more choice over spending and more responsibility for their own affairs could save another £1.15bn, it added.

Things need to be done better and cheaper
Margaret Eaton
Local Government Assocation

The LGA said these and other savings could protect 300,000 school places, 175,000 personal care packages and 36,000 miles of road resurfacing.

Chairman Margaret Eaton said: "We need a bonfire of red tape so that taxpayers' money can be freed up to protect frontline services.

"Things need to be done better and cheaper. If we are to repay the large public debt, we simply cannot afford the same amount of excessive central activity and control of local services.

"We need to make sure there is no unnecessary bureaucracy and that the vast array of different bodies providing public services do not waste money by duplicating the work others already carry out."

The LGA also pointed out that central government staff numbers had soared by 21% over the past decade, with permanent staff at the Department of Communities and Local Government rising 10% last year alone.

Commenting on the report, Caroline Spelman, the Conservatives' local government spokesman, said: "Labour's red tape and regional quangoes have wasted billions of pounds of taxpayers' money and forced up council tax bills for struggling families and pensioners.

"Cutting back Labour's bureaucracy could free up funds to help stop the constant hikes in local taxes and divert more resources to front-line services like bin collections."

Liberal Democrat spokeswoman Julia Goldsworthy said: "The government has tied local authorities in knots with unnecessary targets and red tape.

"Labour and the Tories have always presumed the best in central government and the worst in local government - it should be the other way around.

"The Liberal Democrats want to free councils from the expensive straitjacket of Whitehall rules and targets."

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