With the two big-ticket items in the local government world – the Spending Review and the needs-led Fair Funding Review – expected to be finalised this year, CCN launched its new campaign, ‘A fairer future for counties’.
As we look to the future, I was struck by the optimistic atmosphere at the conference, buoyed by the recent funding announcements for social care, children’s services, and roads maintenance for the current and next financial years.
Importantly, we have a team in post at the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government that we can do business with, and who are acutely aware of the pressures we face on the frontline.
Secretary of State James Brokenshire and Local Government Minister Rishi Sunak had very warm words for county authorities, and both clearly indicated their willingness to work with us in preparing evidence for the 2019 Spending Review.
It was in this context, in my opening speech to the conference, that we launched the campaign, making it quite clear that CCN was in no way trying to skew the dice to the advantage of counties, but to provide Government with robust evidence across all parts of local government and the need for the new funding formula to be fair, needs led and evidence based.
“Everyone agrees that the current funding system is outdated and does not reflect the realities of today
Everyone in the sector is in agreement that the current system is outdated and does not reflect the realities of the present today.
I told delegates at the conference that counties may gain on the swings and lose on some of the roundabouts.
However, I believe that – provided the new model is fair, needs-led and evidence based – counties’ share of the funding cake will be proportionally greater than under the current complex and opaque system.
At the same time, we should be under no illusions about the scale of the challenges ahead and the importance of the Spending Review in providing long-term sustainable funding levels. To illustrate the extent of the challenges ahead, CCN released new research, which showed that the cost of caring for adults with severe learning disabilities will rise by £2 billion by 2025.
I stressed that ‘A fairer future for counties’ is not just about money, but, importantly, about how we in local government shape the post-Brexit devolution agenda, when we must continue to press the case for counties as strategic authorities, with greater strategic planning powers that support accelerated housing delivery and infrastructure for growth.
As part of the devolution agenda, we must set out our case for change, where empowered local government can drive forward public service reform – particularly in health and social care integration that will allow people to live independently in their own homes for longer, and by expanding local community care that helps to relieve significant pressures on acute health services.
At the end of the event, we went away cautiously optimistic about the future, reflecting that, if ministers empower us – and if we achieve a ‘fairer future’ for counties – we can deliver.