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We need answers on Surrey ‘sweetheart deal’ reports

GUardian Surrey 'sweetheart deal'

I’ve joined with other council leaders from across the country to demand answers from the Prime Minister about a deal the Government is alleged to have hatched to give Surrey County Council special help to address the social care funding crisis.

We are asking whether it is the case that Surrey council leader David Hodge agreed to call off a referendum proposing a 15 per cent council tax rise in return for a secret agreement by the Department for Communities and Local Government to plug a huge gap in the council’s budget caused by social care costs and spending cuts.

Surrey is by no means alone in facing an acute and growing social care crisis.

Here in Birmingham, we spent £346 million on adult social care seven years ago. Taking inflation into account, we’d need to spend £420 million now to be delivering services at the same level.

In fact, because of the Government’s austerity regime, we will be able to spend about £230 million in 2017-18.

Our spending on caring for older people has been decimated. Cut by almost half since 2010.

The independent King’s Fund charity believes that in two years there will be a £2.8 billion gap across the country between demand for social care and local authority resources to pay for social care.

By that time public spending on social care will fall to less than one per cent of GDP.

So, if the Government is prepared to help Surrey it must give the same help to all other councils.

Here is the text of the letter to Theresa May:

The Prime Minister

10 Downing Street

London SW1A 2AA

Prime Minister,

We are writing regarding funding arrangements for Conservative-run Surrey County Council. Specifically, the alleged reason behind David Hodge’s decision to drop a planned referendum on increasing council tax by 15 per cent to cover the severe shortfalls in social care, after apparently holding ‘several conversations’ with Whitehall figures.

It has been widely reported in leaked texts, sent by David Hodge supposedly intended for Nick King, Sajid Javid’s special advisor, that DCLG was working on a ‘Memorandum of Understanding.’

In response, as Leaders of Labour councils and council groups, we have a series of questions:

  • Was a deal struck for Surrey County Council?
  • If so, what are the details of the deal?
  • Why was a special deal struck with Surrey behind closed doors?
    Does the Government finally recognise that local Government is grossly underfunded and is that why they have given a special deal to Surrey?
  • Does the Government now recognise that there will be a £2.6bn shortfall in social care funding by 2020?
  • If a deal was struck, will Ministers offer the same deal given to Surrey to all councils, regardless of political affiliation, when the Local Government finance settlement is published on 22nd February?

We have a crisis in social care, resulting from the Conservative Government’s cuts to local authority funding. Secret backroom deals are not the answer. We urgently need a proper solution, which means providing councils with the funding they needed to solve this crisis.

Given the public interest in this matter we will be publishing this letter.

Yours sincerely,

Barrie Grunwald     St Helen’s Council

Mohammed Butt    Brent Council

Richard Watts          Islington Council

Stewart Young         Cumbria County Council

Simon Henig            Durham County Council

Nick Forbes              Newcastle City Council

Lewis Herbert          Cambridge City Council

Peter Martland        Milton Keynes Council

Warren Morgan      Brighton & Hove City Council

Jaz Athwal                 Redbridge Council

Sharon Taylor          Stevenage Council

Simon Greaves        Bassetlaw Council

Peter John                Southwark Council

Sam Dixon                Cheshire West and Chester Council

Steven Brady           Hull City Council

Iain Malcolm            South Tyneside Council

Ray Oxby                   North East Lincolnshire Council

David Budd              Middlesborough Council

Jean Stretton           Oldham Council

Simon Letts              Southampton Council

Sue Jeffrey                Redcar and Cleveland Council

Doug Taylor             Enfield Council

Susan Hinchcliffe    Bradford Council

Mark Townsend      Burnley District Council

Hazel Simmons       Luton Council

Alan Rhodes             Nottinghamshire County Council

Claire Kober             Harringey Council

Peter Box                  Wakefield Council

Christopher Akers-Belcher          Hartlepool Council

Richard Leese          Manchester City Council

Judith Blake              Leeds City Council

Bob Price                  Oxford Council

Tom Beattie             Corby Council

Sachan Shah            Harrow Council

Bob Cook                  Stockton Council

John Clancy              Birmingham City Council

Julian Bell                  Ealing Council

Julie Dore                  Sheffield City Council

Steve Bullock           Lewisham Council

Shaun Davies           Telford & Wrekin Council

Terry O’Neill             Warrington Council

Stephen Lydon        Stroud Council

Phil Davies                Wirral Council

Alexander Ganotis Stockport Council

Steve Eling                Sandwell Council

Sarah Hayward       Camden Council

Peter Lamb              Crawley Council

Simon Blackburn    Blackpool Council

Steve Houghton      Barnsley Council

Jon Collins                 Nottingham City Council

Robin Wales             Newham Council

Alistair Bradley        Chorley Council

Stephen Alambritis            Merton Council

Darren Rodwell       Barking and Dagenham Council

Ian Maher                 Sefton Council

Ros Jones                  Doncaster Council

Roger Lawrence      Wolverhampton Council

Martin Gannon       Gateshead Council

Tim Swift                   Calderdale Council

Cliff Morris                Bolton Council

Pete Lowe                 Dudley Council

Tony Newman         Croydon Council


The social care crisis is not going away

Earlier today I spoke to BBC News about the social care crisis facing vulnerable people across the country.

Mounting social care crisis won’t be solved by a ‘tax on the poor’

You’ll probably have heard a lot recently about imposing a social care precept.

The Government wants councils like Birmingham to levy an additional two per cent on every council tax bill in the city, with the money generated being used to meet the soaring costs of providing adequate social care for older people.

The Prime Minister is even reportedly considering doubling the two per cent levy to four per cent.

It all sounds very reasonable, doesn’t it? Who could object to paying a little more to help the most vulnerable people?

The truth is a two per cent levy, or even a four per cent increase, won’t do very much to plug a gaping hole in Birmingham’s social care budget, which has been hit hard by six years of Government austerity cuts.

The amount of grant we receive from central government to pay for public services has fallen by a staggering 34 per cent since 2010. We’ve cut our spending by almost £600 million in six years, and expect to take out a further £250 million by 2021.

Cuts on such an unprecedented scale cannot be driven through without consequences. And the truth is social services in Birmingham, and in all other major cities, are struggling to cope.

In Birmingham a two per cent social care levy will raise about £5 million, which sounds like a lot of money. But this has to be seen against the £200 million-plus we still spend on adult social care. A two per cent levy will allow us to increase spending on care for older people by about 2.5 per cent – every little is welcome, but it’s hardly going to be a game changer.

There’s a bigger issue here, too. Birmingham has higher than average levels of poverty and deprivation, and a far larger number of cheaper houses than most other cities. In fact, half of all domestic properties in Birmingham are in the lowest council tax bands of A and B and are worth less than £120,000 – against the UK national average house price of £216,674.

This means the levy will hit the poorest the hardest, and that’s just not fair.

Families that really can’t afford higher council tax bills are being asked to pay-up for social care because the Government refuses to do so. This isn’t just a council tax levy – it’s a Poor Tax levy.

Many years ago Mrs Thatcher introduced the poll tax. Now Theresa May is planning a Poor Tax.

The Government’s claim that a social care precept will address the serious and fast-growing crisis in adult social services across the country is disingenuous, at best. The gap between demand for social care, fuelled by a growing elderly population, and the amount councils in austerity Britain can afford to spend is vast.

Don’t take my word for this. Here’s what some experts have had to say:

  • Social care across the country is facing a funding gap of at least £2.6 billion by 2020, even with the current flexibility to increase council tax, according to the Local Government Association.
  • A Care Quality Commission report in October pointed to “a growing strain on services for the elderly”.
  • Chris Hopson, chief executive of NHS Providers, which represents the country’s hospitals, told MPs earlier this year that the social care system “is actually in a rather worse state than people are pretending”.

I was in the House of Commons on November 23rd for the Autumn Statement and, like many in local government I waited for the Chancellor to address the social care issue. But he did not. He had nothing to say on the subject.

Consider these comments from one of the country’s leading local government figures:

“Tragically, the human cost of this will be elderly and vulnerable people continuing to face an ever uncertain future where they might no longer receive the dignified care and support they deserve, such as help getting dressed or getting out and about, which is crucial to their independence and wellbeing. The Government cannot ignore this crisis. It must recognise why social care matters and treat it as a national priority.”

Not my words but those of the highly respected Conservative leader of Warwickshire County Council, Izzie Seccombe.

Cllr Seccombe is right. Without a change of heart by the Government vulnerable people will face a highly uncertain future, and a social care precept won’t be of much use.