Public services face ‘doom loop’ of being in perpetual state of crisis, think tank warns

Britain’s public services are “crumbling” and risk getting stuck in a “perpetual state of crisis”, a think tank has warned.

In its annual report on the state of public services, the Institute for Government (IfG) said public services were performing worse than they did before the pandemic and much worse than they did when the Conservatives came to power in 2010.

Funding cuts, a lack of capital investment and disruption caused by strikes have all contributed to worsening public services, the IfG said, adding that the Government’s refusal to negotiate on public sector pay for months had extended the duration of strikes and brought more disruption.

The think tank also warned that current spending plans, which Labour has said it will stick to if it wins the next election, meant some services were likely to deteriorate further.

Calling for more long-term planning, the IfG said: “In the absence of serious action to improve public service productivity, the government risks getting stuck in a ‘doom loop’, with the perpetual state of crisis burning out staff and preventing services from taking the best long-term decisions.

“Escaping this will not be easy and whoever forms the next government will be hindered by the short-sighted decisions of its predecessors.”

The IfG’s report covered several public services including hospitals, GPs, the police, courts, prisons, adult social care, schools and children’s social care.

According to the IfG, the crown court backlog was a record 64,709 cases in June 2023, although the greater complexity of the cases meant the “effective backlog” was around 89,937 cases.

The hospital elective waiting list has risen to 7.8 million, compared with 4.6 million on the eve of the pandemic, while only just over half of those attending A&E are admitted, transferred or discharged within four hours.

Other services such as adult social care have seen additional funding eaten up by higher costs, which the IfG said meant there had been “little progress in reducing unmet and under-met need”.

The think tank added that there was “no meaningful fat to trim” after more than a decade of austerity, and further cuts would damage service performance even more.

Quoting former cabinet secretary Lord O’Donnell, the report concluded that current spending plans were “totally unsustainable” and said the next government would “likely face huge public and political pressure to provide public services with more generous funding settlements”.

Nick Davies (pictured), IfG programme director and report author, said: “Public services are in a dire state and will likely deteriorate further if whoever forms the next government sticks to current spending plans.

“Improvements are possible but difficult decisions will be necessary to break out of the negative cycle of short-termism that has characterised government decision-making, particularly in recent years.”

A Government spokesperson said: “We are committed to backing our frontline services. We have invested record levels of funding in the NHS, as well as a further £14.1 billion to cut wait times, and school funding is up by over £3.9 billion this year, reaching the highest level in real terms per pupil in history.”

“As we continue to spend record levels on our public services continues to rise, to avoid tax increases for working people we must accelerate reform so that frontline workers can focus on what they do best – teaching our children, treating us when we’re sick and keeping us safe.”

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