The View From Local Government Academia

Posted on October 29, 2013 · Posted in Accounting & Business

‘THE PUBLIC SECTOR MUST EXPECT CONTINUING PRESSURE ON BUDGETS WELL INTO THE NEXT DECADE AND IT SHOULD PLAN ACCORDINGLY.’  TONY TRAVERS, VISITING PROFESSOR OF GOVERNMENT AT THE LONDON SCHOOL OF ECONOMICS AND DIRECTOR OF THE LSE LONDON RESEARCH CENTRE. 

We still have a long way to go to reduce the deficit, even if the economy picks up somewhat.  It will take a number of years.  Even when that is over things will be tough.  There is very little evidence that any Chancellor is prepared to put taxes up very much.  So the public sector is unlikely to get back to the 44/45% of GDP that we have been comfortable with over the years.

There is a continuing need to reduce the deficit and to sustain the public sector, which will get smaller over time.  That will create considerable pressure across the board unless and until the NHS and schools share some of the pain.

The UK’s demographics will make things worse.  There has been excellent work by the Office for Budget Responsibility on the dependency ratio.  If you align that with the fall in immigration that some politicians want then the dependency ratio will worsen still further.

I am reluctant to give advice to practitioners, but the public sector should expect continuing pressure on budgets well into the next decade and it should plan accordingly.  The politicians making decisions need to promise less and not pretend to the public that there can be a bigger public sector than they are willing to fund from taxation.  So they need to talk down expectations.

My working day varies enormously.  I spend a lot of my time at the LSE.   I start a new British Government course in the Autumn.  I have a lot of seminars and committee meetings.  I like being around the LSE, but I also like to spend a fair amount of time out and about.  I enjoy speaking at events and to get out of London to spend time in other cities and in rural areas to see what is happening.

There has been an extraordinary growth in seminars, think tanks, debates and talks.  These are enjoyable, but at some times of the year there are an enormous number of events.

Universities are the repositories of an extraordinary amount of research and this is a source of analysis and evidence, which I think it is good to disseminate.  Universities talk these days about engagement and knowledge exchange, which is about ensuring that what goes on in universities is helpful for what goes on in the real world.  I enjoy taking things back into the real world, where people do things.  There is an opportunity to make this analysis and research publicly available and it is enjoyable to do that.

ACCA has been much more visible in recent years in promoting public debate.  ACCA has clearly and effectively broadened its interests and provided its members with a more detailed view of the public sector.  I have been to a number of ACCA events, where there has been a seriousness of intent from the people attending.

Tony Travers is a headline speaker at ACCA’s UK Local Government Summit on 17 October.