A surprise story from the BBC’s economics editor, Stephanie Flanders, shows that although there has been talk and much complaining of massive cuts in local government services, there does not seem to have been much impact on front line services. Some 65 percent of people said they had not noticed any change in the quality of their local services, despite cuts of about 25 percent in their budgets. Furthermore, the level of customer satisfaction with services is rising, with 74 percent of Hackney residents, for example, now declaring themselves satisfied with the services they receive. The corresponding figure was 23 percent in 2001, and 53 percent in 2006.
Given those 25 percent budget cuts and a drop in the numbers employed within local government, these figures seem to vindicate the critics who suggested that much fat could be cut from budgets without impacting upon services. Or it could be that councils have been skilful in targeting the cuts so that relatively small numbers have been affected by them. It does suggest that there was hidden capacity in local government, capacity that crisis has brought out. The same might be true of the economy nationally, and that in turn suggests that the belt-tightening and austerity might not have the impact level suggested by the pessimists. We might be able to deliver the same output, or even more, with fewer inputs if we deliver it more cleverly.
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