Spending Review 2015: CCN Spokesmen Reaction

CCN News 2015 | 30 November 2015

Default Post Feature

The Spending Review was far reaching in terms of its impact on local government. CCN’s spokesmen have commented upon the key announcements impacting upon their areas of responsibility.

Cllr Martin Hill, CCN Devolution Spokesman, said;

‘The stark news set out in the Spending Review increases rather than diminishes the importance of county devolution. With constrained budgets local areas need the powers and freedoms to innovate, integrate and fund vital services. While devolution will not be the panacea to plug increasing funding gaps it will be a key piece of the puzzle.’

The Chancellor reiterated his support for the Northern Powerhouse and metro mayors – however if we are to achieve his ‘devolution revolution’ across the country now is the time for government to prioritise transformative county devolution. This will include taking an intelligent and tailored approach to county governance, responding to the unique geographies and demographics of our areas. We cannot risk a two-speed approach to devolution which could disenfranchise our communities and business and see the fragmentation of the local government map.

‘We must also be clear that devolution cannot be a simple exercise in passporting cuts which central government do not want to take to the local area. While we know we can deliver more efficiently than other parts of the public sector we must be equipped with the right resources and financial freedoms to invest in preventative services and in growth, if we are to really see the benefits of devolution.’

NOTE: CCN have set up a County Devolution Board made up of a cross-party group of senior leaders and cabinet members, from across the country. The Board have requested a meeting with Ministers to discuss the timely progression of county devolution and appropriate county governance models’.

Cllr David Borrow, CCN Spokesman for Finance, said;

‘As the dust settles on the Chancellor’s statement, it is clear that local government has once again been asked to carry a disproportionate burden in reducing the deficit.

The Government has recognised CCN’s call for additional council tax flexibility for upper-tier councils, a decision we welcome. However, this alone will not allow counties to continue to provide vital frontline services particularly in areas more reliant on grants. For instance, the new social care precept will only raise £193m for CCN member councils during the next financial year, a mere fifth of the £959m funding gap for county social care departments.

Redistribution of NHB and an enhanced Better Care Fund was also a core CCN ask but we are concerned that councils will not see the benefit until towards the end of decade when services supporting our elderly and vulnerable are at breaking point now.

With average unallocated reserves for CCN Member Councils of only 3.1% our reserves are essential for sound financial planning, especially in a more volatile world where business rates fund essential services.

The promised wider reforms to the local government finance system will need to ensure a sensible baseline financial stability for counties with fairness and equity across the country, and the Government will need engage in serious discussions about the scope of new responsibilities and how these functions will be funded’

Cllr Anne Western, CCN Economic Growth and Prosperity Spokesman said;

‘Investment in growth will be vital to the future of our country – we therefore welcome the government’s focus strategic infrastructure investment set out in the Spending Review. However we are disappointed with the narrow remit of the National Infrastructure Commission, which has decided to focus almost exclusively on London and big cities. Growth does not begin and end in cities and we must recognise the way in which different types of economy work together. County areas represent a huge proportion of the country’s GDP and are vital to connectivity and logistics, while facing some of the biggest infrastructure pressures.’

County areas are ready to play a leading role in the emerging sub-national transport and infrastructure agenda. The CCN and groups of county areas will be engaging with the Commission and with government to broaden the remit of national infrastructure priorities, so that we can get the best outcomes for the country.’

Counties make the largest contribution to the national economy and the Treasury – however over-centralised control is also causing structural economic problems. Counties are currently seeing low levels of productivity, which will need to be addressed with infrastructure investment and the devolution of skills, economic growth and fiscal powers. CCN have calculated that counties could add an additional £100bn to the national economy if they were enabled to increase their productivity.’

Cllr Colin Noble, CCN Spokesman for Health & Social Care said;

‘The recognition by Government of the funding challenges facing adult social care is welcomed by the County Councils Network. In particular, the increased funding for adult social care through the Better Care Fund, the potential of additional funding through the New Homes Bonus and the optional social care precept will aide counties in meeting some of the cost pressures they are facing.

Whilst the funding announcements are welcome, the failure of government to front-load funding for adult social care in a similar manner to the NHS may be hinder the pace and scale of the integration. Counties will only be able to access higher levels of funding from 2019/20 from the Better Care Fund.

However, funding is required to address the immediate pressures such as the introduction of the National Living Wage, the perilous state of care markets and increasing service demand on adult social care. In 2015/16 CCN estimated a funding shortfall £959m for counties.

The continuation of the Better Care Fund and option to develop ambitious integration plans with the NHS will enable local areas to drive out efficiencies. CCN will continue to work with government to ensure that financial incentives are realigned to focus on early intervention and prevention, rather than rewarding patient contacts. Without this the integration of services will only have a limited impact.

CCN will continue to engage with the Department of Health and the Department for Communities and Local Government to ensure that counties are provided with sufficient freedom and flexibilities to meet the care needs of their local populations.’

Cllr Ian Stewart, CCN Spokesman for Community Wellbeing said;

The announcement of further reductions to public health funding for counties is disappointing and will have unintended consequences.

Without the delivery of public health services such as smoking cessation, health checks and school nurses, the NHS efficiencies needed to deliver the Five Year Forward View will not be achieved. This will result in Government having to spend more money on the NHS.

At a time when public health budgets are shrinking, it is vital that counties are given freedom to focus on local needs and priorities, as opposed to initiatives set by Public Health England and the Secretary of State.

It is imperative that Government agree with the CCN view that a whole systems approach is taken to health and social care, whereby the emphasis is shifted away from crisis care to early intervention and prevention. CCN will continue to engage government in order to ensure that public health performs an essential role within the integration agenda.

Cllr Ian Hudspeth, CCN Spokesman for Children, Young People & Learning said;

The Spending Review announcement brings mixed news for Children’s Services and schools in county areas.

The announcement of a revised schools funding formula is welcomed in rural counties. Much needed funding will enable schools in those areas to deliver the Government’s commitment to provide every child with ‘the best start in life’.

However, the reduction of £600m to Education Services Grant will reduce the level of support services available to schools and students, such as school improvement services and education welfare services.

The overall reductions in local government funding will mean that counties will be required to make difficult decisions in relation to Children’s Services.

If demand on county children’s services continues to follow the same trajectory as over the last parliament, then this will have a damaging effect on local authority budgets and more importantly, outcomes for those children most in need.

It is essential that local government shares best practice, such as CCN’s recently launched report Delivering Children’s Services in Challenging Times, to ensure that councils are getting the best value possible from the public pound.

CCN member councils will need to analyse the detail of the Spending Review, along with our partners in the NHS and Police, to assess the impact on preventative and safeguarding services.