PHILIP Hammond’s caution is understandable ahead of the Spring Statement as debt begins to fall for the first time in 17 years.
Even though Britain has enjoyed five years of growth as unemployment nears a 40-year low, the country is still £1.8 trillion in debt, an unsustainable sum, and Brexit remains the biggest unknown of all.
Yet, while the responsible course is not to undertake a reckless spending spree until the consequences, positive or negative, of the country’s departure from the European Union are clearer, the Chancellor was in denial when challenged over the state of local government finances and a growing crisis in social care.
Though this week’s speech will set the parameters for the next Budget, and the next spending review which is due to be implemented in 2020, Mr Hammond does not appreciate that those running out of money now include the more innovative town halls and also Tory-controlled shire councils.
This state of affairs was summed up by Doncaster Council’s reforming chief executive Jo Miller who has issued this warning: “As public servants, we have done and will continue to do our best to shield our communities from the effects of cuts. But the reality is that we are running out of options.”
For, while the Chancellor pointed to an extra £2bn that was set aside in his last Budget for social care, and the increased powers that he’s given to local authorities to raise council tax bills and, therefore, stretch the finances of ‘just about managing’ families still further, the extra money is a sticking plaster solution when a long-term financial settlement is the order of the day.
As such, how many elderly, frail and vulnerable people will need to be deprived of day-to-day care, and support, before Mr Hammond acts? For his benefit, this is one instance where doing nothing is, in fact, the irresponsible course of action.