A note of caution over the extent of localism has been sounded by Philip Hammond, the Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury on the question of allowing Town Halls to determine welfare payments. Last week it was reported that he recognised "the huge potential savings" of the direction that several Council leaders, including Cllr Paul Carter in kent, have urged him to follow. But he raised doubts about whether public opinion could be persuaded.
Interviewed by the Local Government Chronicle, Philip Hammond says:
“I said to Paul … if you put [the question] to your electorate: ‘How comfortable would you feel about your local authority being involved in benefit entitlements as opposed to the government setting it
nationally?’, I am not convinced the public would be comfortable with that.”
“Whether you are talking about the health service or welfare, you will find a body of opinion led by the national press that will light upon the street where the person on one side gets one thing and the person on the other gets another because they live in different local authorities.
“I think we need to be aware of that issue, it’s not an insurmountable problem but it is one we have to address as we take forward any kind of devolutionary agenda.”
I think it is rather refreshing there is open debate about this. I suppose there will be a lot of detail to thrash out which will determine how radical the changes should be. Should councils just be given the responsibility for handing out jobseeker's allowance ro should they be able to vary the amount? If circumstances, such as the cost of living, varies in different regions why shouldn't benefit levels also vary?
Also if Mr Hammond turns down (or dilutes) Cllr Carter's offer to save £21 billion then the money will have to found elsewhere. Does Mr Hammond have a more popular way of saving £21 billion?