Reflecting on our recent experience of virtual working with councils, health services, social workers and schools
For those of us in public services, the absence of social care in the Autumn Statement was the main headline (see Jeremy Cooper’s comments in the MJ). Especially so given both the strong lobbying efforts prior to Wednesday, with think tanks, charities, the LGA and the NHS calling for extra funding, and most of the commentary leading up to the Statement suggesting that there would be an announcement on social care.
Given the lack of a solution (or mention) of local government’s biggest budget lines, what else can the sector take from Wednesday? Alas, it appears that it raises more questions than it answers. If local government was looking for more certainty, then Wednesday did not provide it.
- Freeze on public sector wages: How do you attract bright, young intelligent people (graduates) to a sector that is consistently devalued and living with pay freezes, particularly in local government?
- National living wage: great in practice for workers, but in practice a budget cut for authorities as they have to pay providers more. This is not going to help the pressures in adult social care and the NHS. (However, as my colleague Amanda Kelly has recently written, being a carer has been totally devalued as a profession. If we’re going to have a sustainable care market, we need to rethink the systemic problem of carer recruitment and retention).
- Devolution: I don’t think this was unexpected for London, who got their adult education budget devolved, but it still appears to be concentrated on the major cities (with the exception of Cornwall). Borrowing powers for the Combined Authorities appear to be a positive step but seem to be focused on infrastructure. The enthusiasm for devolution does appear to waning; there are not many deals in the pipeline. And what about the rural economies?
- There was no mention of what will happen about EU structural funds post Brexit. This is a huge issue for parts of the UK. Cornwall being officially still one of the poorest areas in the EU is going to struggle without these funds, yet there seemed to be little or no focus on infrastructure in the South West. The LEP funds will probably not make it further than Bristol and Devon.
The sector will need to wait for the public service spending review that Philip Hammond has promised to do for the next parliament. Sadly, for most councils – and their vulnerable citizens – it could be too little too late.