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In his final speech to the House of Commons, David Curry MP warns of very difficult years ahead for local government. Mr Curry was a local government minister in the Major years, responsible for the highly successful City Challenge programme.
5% cuts are coming to local government: "The crunch for local government will come not this
year but in 2011-12 and 2012-13, because the comprehensive spending
review takes care of the present year. However, if there is a cut in
grant of something like 5 per cent., which is not an unreasonable
assumption, given the pressures that we are under and the fact that
local government is not one of the "safeguarded" services, serious
decisions will have to be taken and there will be serious consequences.
Recession drives up demand. It drives up demand for free school meals.
It drives up demand from self-carers who fall back on welfare because
they can no longer finance their care, and it drives up the cost of
home-school transport. Those are only three areas in which recession
inevitably pushes up costs."
Cuts are coming at a time when local government faces flat revenues: "We must also
consider demographic demand-we do not need to go into the familiar
argument of what an ageing population means-and the fact that recession
leads to income being constrained from things such as tourism, and car
parking and planning charges. Many local authorities depend heavily on
those charges to maintain a relatively modest council tax, or at least
to mitigate its impact. However, the council tax is not a buoyant tax.
We have already heard about house building, and a low level of house
building means that there is no buoyancy in the council tax. Local
government will therefore face a huge problem, even with the best will
in the world."
Three factors that are pushing up local government costs: "If one then looks at the longer
term, however, and considers the three big factors driving costs, the
situation becomes much more difficult. First, there are the
consequences of what we might call the baby P issue. Whenever there is
one of these ghastly episodes where a child has suffered appalling
mistreatment and has died, the impact on the reactions of social
services departments is bound to come through, in the sense of them
playing safe and not taking risks, and that enhances demand-and rightly
so; one understands that. Secondly, there is the demographic time bomb
of adult care, plus the special demands of high-dependency cases, which
will now impact much more severely. Thirdly, there is the old question
of the waste and landfill targets; as they are winched up, the costs
for local government get higher and higher."
Public services cannot be safeguarded in this environment: "Those
are three huge, emotional, high-volume and high-cost issues. Add that
to the recession and we see that local government is facing the perfect
storm. We can talk until we are blue in the face about safeguarding
public services, but they will not be safeguarded. Nobody can, and
nobody will, safeguard them. Some services can be hit harder than
others, but even then we have to be careful, because there is no point
in saying, "We're going to make a special case of the health service"
if the consequence is that social services get particularly badly hit.
So many of the outcomes in health depend on effective social services.
They have to be treated together. If we dislocate the pair of them,
what is gained on the swings will be lost on the roundabout."
Tomorrow we will highlight David Curry's valedictory words on Europe.