Chancellor Rishi Sunak should use this month’s Spending Review to ensure the best public service innovations driven by Covid-19 become permanent fixtures, according to a new report.
Faster hospital discharges and greater use of technology in the NHS and HM Courts and Tribunals Service are among examples of where the public sector’s response to the pandemic should inform changes for the long term, the Institute for Government’s Performance Tracker 2020 report said.
The report, put together in conjunction with the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy, said that some elements of the public sector’s response to the crisis have accelerated the delivery of pre-pandemic public service objectives and should remain.
It argued that other responses introduced since March – such as remote GP and hospital appointments and free school meals during holidays – should have their funding extended while their effectiveness is properly assessed.
IfG programme director Nick Davies said the UK’s coronavirus response had seen extra funding and far greater use of technology targeted at protecting critical public services from collapse and that 25 November’s Spending Review would be a chance to capitalise on lessons learned.
“The government must make some hugely difficult decisions in the Spending Review,” he said.
“In doing so, it must learn from what has worked, and what hasn’t, since the crisis began and make smart investments in those changes that will help public services to cope with the difficult years ahead.”
Chancellor Rishi Sunak confirmed last month that he will only be setting out a one-year settlement on 25 November, rather than a multi-year plan, because of the economic uncertainty that the ongoing pandemic is creating.
CIPFA chief executive Rob Whiteman said public services were facing unprecedented challenges and that ministers had to be able to determine whether those services were ultimately reaching the people they were intended to serve.
‘‘There must be a clear plan from government on how short-term stimulus packages in the coming months will be aligned to a clear outcomes framework,” he said.
“We would expect this to be outlined as part of the upcoming spending review. It is critical to take responsibility for the spending decisions that we make. Our action, or inaction during the recovery period will impact the lives of the most vulnerable people for years to come.’’
Particular backlog issues described as "huge" include patients waiting longer to start treatment in hospital and the long-term implications of GPs dealing with patients who stayed away from the NHS during the pandemic. The report said waiting lists for treatment were likely to grow for years to come.
It said the crown court case backlog was now equivalent to 56,000 cases – 42% higher than it was before coronavirus and the biggest in at least two decades.