A Tory council leader pleads for cross-party initiatives and unitisation to cut costs

Owl sats: One has to wonder if he would be putting out the same message if his party had a majority.

Austerity means careful, selective investment is needed in core services, says Martin Tett, the Conservative leader of Buckinghamshire council

“… Less than a fortnight ago, the LGA sent chancellor Philip Hammond a 40-page submission ahead of the autumn budget which warned that services in England were at “tipping point” as a result of significant funding gaps, pointing to children’s services, adult social care and homelessness. By the end of this decade, English town halls will have seen £16bn of reductions to government grant funding – and from April 2019, 168 councils will not receive any funding for day-to-day expenditure.

Among its many appeals, the umbrella body urged the government to meet a £5.8bn funding gap facing existing local services by 2019/2020, of which £2.3bn is identified in adult social care. This figure includes £1.3bn that the LGA says is needed immediately to stabilise the adult social care market. This is despite an additional £2bn announced by Hammond in his spring budget to help councils cope over the next three years.

It also reiterated its call for greater financial flexibility and powers to allow town halls to build new homes in large numbers once more. …

… Alongside its urgent plea for cash for adult social care, the LGA has called for cross-party talks at national level to find a long-term solution to the social care funding crisis. The move echoes a call made by the Commons select committee for communities and local government in March that concluded that inadequate funding was having a serious impact on both the quality and level of care, and said a long-term fix was urgently necessary. Earlier this year, former Lib Dem social care minister Norman Lamb and a small group of cross-party MPs urged the prime minister to set up an NHS and Care convention to work on a sustainable settlement. A recent poll by the charity Independent Age showed that 86% of MPs believe a cross-party consensus is needed. The LGA has even offered to host the first round of discussions. …

… One way to save significant money would be to replace the two-tier system of one county and four district councils with one unitary authority. Having responsibilities split across two tiers of local government is crazy, says Tett. Districts, for example, are responsible for housing, counties for infrastructure – yet they are “two bits of the same jigsaw”. It would speed up decision-making, end the confusion about who is responsible for which services and allow a more holistic approach, such as joint commissioning across housing, health and care, he says.

The business case for unitary authority status has been in communities secretary Sajid Javid’s in-tray since last September. Tett is waiting to see if the reasoned argument will be heard.”