YP Comment: Social care tax requires clarity. Time for greater transparency

THE Government cannot win with its funding announcement on social care.

Social care changes do not offer a long-term funding solution.

Some will say savings should be achieved from other budgets, notably foreign aid, while others contend that the rise in council tax bills, if town halls do choose to levy a precept, does not go far enough and won’t cover the cuts enforced by the last Parliament.

Either way, it does appear that Ministers are being disingenuous after Chancellor Philip Hammond was reportedly refused permission to raise the issue in last month’s Autumn Statement so not to blur Theresa May’s over-riding narrative about ‘just about managing’ families.

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These are the facts. Twelve months ago, George Osborne gave local authorities permission to impose a two per cent surcharge on council tax bills to help meet the care needs of an ageing population – and most took advantage of this. Despite alarmist headlines, bills will not be rising by an inflation-busting six per cent. Under the updated plan, the levy can increase by up to three per cent for each of the next two years and this, once again, will be at the discretion of individual authorities rather than Ministers. And here lies the rub. The Government will not say whether this will apply to the 2019-20 financial year which is due, at present, to precede the next election. Why? It smacks of political chicanery so Ministers can blame councils if they then threaten to cut key services.

It should not be like this. The elderly are not commodities. They are individuals deserving of dignity as they become more frail. They also need the assurance that their carers can spend sufficient time with them – and that they will not lose out as their health and mobility deteriorates. As such, Ministers are duty-bound to provide this assurance for the long term. Equally, council chiefs need to ensure that the increased revenue is spent on social care – and not frittered away by profligate bureaucrats. As such, the most important word – after care and continuity – is transparency.

Skills mission: Preparing Britain for Brexit

WITH no extra money for education, there will, inevitably, be winners and losers in the reallocation of school funds after an acceptance that pupils in shire counties were left disadvantaged by a system which favoured their counterparts in metropolitan areas.

Yet, while the changes vindicate the fairness campaign led by Beverley MP Graham Stuart and others, the Government does need to ask whether it can justify a spending squeeze at a time when pupil numbers are rising when so many youngsters are completing their full-time education without acquiring skills fit for the 21st century.

This is critical. If immigration rules are going to be tightened significantly, and companies less dependent on employees from the EU, this void is going to have to be filled by young people from Britain – and, specifically, those individuals who are not already in full-time employment.

Schools, colleges and universities need to move with the time as the rollout of 5G technology transforms the digital economy still further. In this regard, Tory grandee Ken Baker, a radical Education Secretary in Margaret Thatcher’s government, made a key point in the House of Lords when he suggested that computing was now as important, if not more so, than learning a foreign language. It’s a valid point. If the country is not careful, it will be facing a skills crisis at the very time when the whole of Britain needs to be working ‘morning, noon and night’ to retain its status as the world’s fifth-largest economy when Brexit does take shape and effect.

First class service: Royal Mail’s unsung heroes

THOSE who thought the advent of the email, and digital technology, would mark the last post for the Royal Mail were, thankfully, mistaken judging by the volume of cards, letters and parcels still being handled by staff.

Unsung heroes of society, they’re the people who keep businesses ticking over while providing a social lifeline to those whose only communication with the outside world is invariably the welcome sound of a letter landing on the doormat.

And despite the occasional mail mix-up – understandable given the volume of post being handled at sorting offices, with some items addressed in a most perfunctory matter – it’s right to acknowledge the first class service being provided in the run-up to Christmas. It’s truly priceless. Without it, Britain would be in a flap at the mercy of carrier pigeons.