You have been characteristically generous, Madam Deputy Speaker, and I shall make progress.
We are happy to be judged on our record of steadily increasing investment and greater freedoms. This settlement, which underpins our ambitious vision for local government, is how we will not only protect but continue to improve local public services, despite the tighter financial climate. Local government has a good record on making efficiency savings, but the truth is that the really hard challenges have still not been tackled consistently in every council and in every area. Local people will rightly be intolerant if they are told by their council that front-line services will be cut when it has not taken the tough decisions to introduce shared services, sharing senior staff with other authorities, primary care trusts or other providers, or made the best use of public assets.
The new task force that I have established, led by Steve Bullock, the mayor of Lewisham, and Richard Leese, the leader of Manchester city council, will report by the end of the month on how well-led authorities can protect and improve services while meeting the new demands for greater efficiency.
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