Cllr Paul Carter is the Leader of Kent County Council and the Chairman of the County Councils Network.
Many sceptics believe that the minority Conservative Government will be an inhibitor to change, viewing the prospect of getting the necessary legislation through Parliament as a big obstacle to change. I disagree.
At the Local Government Association executive, I suggested that the prospect of less legislative change could be seen as a refreshing and exciting opportunity. It would enable local government to spend more time “on the doing”, improving public services in our communities and using the tools we have at our disposal, as opposed to fixating on legislative change. To help and support this endeavour is the reason I am running for the LGA Conservative Group Leader position.
The events of the last few weeks mean that we need to adapt in order to change and as a result, do so much more and differently – and Local Government must forge a new relationship with Central Government working and communicating in new and innovative ways.
It is my view that the LGA needs to apply a focussed, positive and pragmatic approach to take forward its priorities. We need to be a united voice wherever possible, forming new and stronger relationships with central government and public sector partners. We offer to Government, experience and solutions to many of the challenges central government faces in improving public services and outcomes for our communities – improving value for money and quality of life. We need devolution agreements that empower all sectors of local government to “get on” enabling them to deliver.
Fair funding is vital to delivery. We need to move quickly to agree a needs-led, evidence-based, transparent funding formula for all sectors of local government. The LGA was tasked with this by previous Secretary of State, Greg Clark, some 18 months ago and now needs to provide the solution. The LGA must not allow it to be parked in the “too difficult to handle” box.
Likewise, Business Rate retention must release the current £12.5 billion funding still retained by Government. It must reward commercial growth, but at the same time avoid massive windfall gains or shocking losses beyond the control of local authorities.
The National Funding Formula for Schools must also be needs-led and transparent. While the current proposal contains the right cost drivers, the weightings within it urgently need to be adjusted to remove the unfairnesses in the current system – with no school being a loser now a must-do requirement. Change is needed.
Health and Social Care integration and reform is dependent above all else on the relationships between Local Government and Health colleagues. Health colleagues reluctance to engage with local government is a considerable obstacle. A renewed partnership between Local Government and the Secretaries of State for Communities and for Health could be a powerful influence. Simon Stevens is speaking at the LGA Conference next month and needs to be aware of the obstacles to progress. The potential to work together to deliver better value for money, seamless health and social care services that deliver better patient care and better patient outcomes is to be grasped.
I have strong views on Social Care funding. The current system is broken and phenomenally unfair. For “the 25 per cent” on low incomes, the current system supports them well with entitlement to good state support. However, for the vast majority who are unfortunate to succumb to dementia and other long-term disabling conditions, it fails to provide the essential financial support needed. To rub salt into the wound, for older people, Scotland has free entitlement to personal care for all! We need to work hard to find sustainable solutions and should look around the world, particularly in Holland and Germany.
We must seize the opportunities ahead. Local government has delivered massive transformational change and efficiencies over the last decade. The LGA needs to be the champion for change. We need to be a strong, united Conservative voice for local government. There is a big job to do, let’s make it happen.