Whitehall cannot afford to remain so centralised and needs to work in more “collegiate ways” with local government, Treasury second permanent secretary Sharon White said yesterday.
Speaking at the Institute for Government event, Place-based accountability: Will decentralisation in England mean better, more accountable government?, Sharon White called for more collaboration between the centre to local government.
“The transaction cost of operating in very siloed, un-collegiate ways – none of us can afford that,” White said.
She cited health and social care as an example of an area where a more integrated approach was needed.
“If you really care about the patient or the customer at the end of this, we can't afford to waste the money in the overheads having all those separate discussions.”
While healthcare funding is dealt with nationally by the NHS, social care funding is provided by local authorities through the Social Care Service. White said that the overlap in need is evident among the elderly who may need access to both provisions.
“If [you have] an older person receiving social care and healthcare services, [the phrase] ‘we have a boundary issue’ doesn't work for the individual.”
White’s views were echoed by fellow panel member Jo Miller, chief executive of Doncaster Metropolitan Borough Council, who described attempting to tackle health while ignoring social care as “a train that's about to go off the track”.
Also citing the fiscal need for a more collaborative working approach, Miller highlighted the squeeze local government is facing due to austerity measures, saying she was struggling to plan for her council beyond the 2017.
She added: “I don't think there's a single honest conversation being had in this country about the state of the state, and the state we can afford in the future.”
The three-strong panel, comprising White, Miller and Jessica Crowe – executive director of the event’s co-host Centre for Public Scrutiny (CfPS) – also touched on the diminishing role of councillors in the scrutiny and accountability process, and the lack of local government “voice” at the table during spending reviews.