The Conservative party has won a stonking majority. What does that mean for local government? It could mean they have a mandate for everything in their manifesto . . . but the reality is likely to be more complicated than that.
Here are my predictions, in reverse order of significance for local government:
5. Fixing pot holes – my prediction is that the pledge of £2 billion to fill pot holes will be one of the first to be (ahem) quietly shovelled away. I think that localism – not getting too involved and letting local government get on with it (this time with a bit of money) – will triumph over the potential credit central government would get from fulfilling this promise.
4. Doubling down on Universal Credit – will give increased clarity to those who are missing out in society. Under Labour or a coalition, there was a strong chance the policy would be revisited, possibly leading to something fairer, possibly leading to more years of uncertainty. But today’s result means Universal Credit is here to stay. Local government will need to continue to step up, moving away from just providing discreet services where there is need, to getting a holistic view of those who most need support in their area.
3. A new immigration narrative – I can see that the points-based immigration concept could spark a fascinating national debate on how much we value our public services. The pessimistic view in the sector is that public service jobs will be undervalued by the points system, just as salaries and pay rates in the sector have been undervalued. But that doesn’t have to be the case. We could seize this agenda and show that salaries don’t equal value. Social workers use their professional skill and judgement to make momentous decisions, such as whether to remove children from their parents. How many points is that worth?
2. A social care policy – could having a large majority give the government the confidence to get the long promised and much-delayed paper on radical social care funding reform out? There is a version of the paper kicking around that is allegedly just about finished. There are mixed messages in the manifesto about ‘fixing’ social care, a commitment that you won’t have to sell your home, but also about getting cross party consensus. My prediction is there will be a paper published, but the ferocity of the ensuing debate will see the Government retreating. That could lead to a genuine opportunity to build a new consensus on care – but more likely, the can will be kicked down the road again.
1. Not enough money to solve problems, but enough to invest in change. Although the Conservatives promised more modest public service budget increases than other parties, we should remember that we are now at a significant turning point for local government finances. From a decade of reductions to a likely funding increase of about 4% is a significant change in context. It doesn’t mean an end to councils worrying about their financial sustainability, but most of them will now be able to get their heads up and plan for the next 3 years. That is a big opportunity, one that should not be missed.