DIRE warnings from town hall chiefs about looming funding crises do, invariably, need to carry a health warning – they’re often timed for maximum impact ahead of key budget decisions locally, regionally and nationally.
It’s the same with the Local Government Association’s claim today that councils face a £5.8bn spending shortfall unless Ministers act in the forthcoming Budget – leaders want to shift the blame for difficult decisions onto Downing Street if they choose, for example, to cut the time that carers spend with the elderly.
Yet, while there are councils who have been in denial about the state of the public finances and which have been reluctant reformers in the past when it comes to delivering key services competently and efficiently, there’s no denying the fact that the pressures in the social care sector are significant.
Even though town halls can levy a three per cent precept on council tax bills to ensure the elderly are treated with dignity and humanity, the LGA claims that 57 care authorities will actually be worse off because of other changes to the funding mechanisms used by the Government to determine the grants that Whitehall allocate to councils each year.
This is now so acute that Tory-controlled Surrey – home to Cabinet ministers like Chancellor Philip Hammond and Transport Secretary Chris Grayling – is holding a referendum to determine whether it can raise its council tax by an unprecedented 15 per cent to meet the demands of an ageing society.
How long can Ministers remain in denial about this crisis and the need for a cross-party consensus to be reached on the long-term funding of community care so NHS hospitals are not put under unnecessary pressure? The chairs of Parliament’s communities, health and public accounts select committees have all offered to work with the Government on this, and Theresa May appeared sympathetic during a television interview earlier this week. The sooner this process begins, the better – the health of the frail and vulnerable depends on a consensus being reached.
Back on track
THE ambition was self-evident when Transport Secretary Chris Grayling set out his vision for Yorkshire at Leeds Chamber of Commerce’s annual dinner last night. “Great transport created the first Northern Powerhouse nearly two centuries ago,” said the Cabinet minister whose sentiments were greeted enthusiastically by those present. “And it can create the second one in the future.”
A detailed speech which chronicled the projects that are currently underway in Yorkshire, and which offered a strong defence of HS2, it was refreshing to hear such a senior Minister accept that “transport infrastructure across the North is not nearly good enough for a region with such incredible potential”.
These are not The Yorkshire Post’s words, a regular critic of successive Governments when it comes to infrastructure investment. They are the words of the Cabinet minister tasked with a delivering a world-class transport infrastructure.
A particular focus is the urgent need to increase capacity on the trans-Pennine railway line, and links between the North’s major cities. Though £60m has been set aside for preliminary work, there is still a nagging belief that this scheme is not being treated with the same urgency as new transport schemes in London. Mr Grayling, this is your chance to silence the doubters.
A day of reflection
LIKE the Great War when commemorations grew in size as the world became more appreciative of the sacrifices made by the last surviving veterans, the same also applies to Holocaust Memorial Day as time catches up with those fortunate to survive the Second World War’s Nazi death camps.
At a time when populism is on the march, the haunting testimonies of Jews held in Hitler’s concentration camps are a poignant reminder about the heinous capacity of mankind when extreme views are unleashed, and why the civilised world should pause for thought today to reflect upon the atrocities of the past.
Set in the context of the polarising political landscapes on both sides of the Atlantic, it’s even more reason to remember the sentiments of murdered MP Jo Cox in her maiden address to Parliament when she said “we are far more united and have far more in common with each other than things that divide us”. These are powerful words that continue to grow in symbolism and significance.