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Social Care

Volume 457: debated on Tuesday 27 February 2007

19. What assessment she has made of the impact of the provisional local government grant settlement on social care provision. (123210)

We are committed to ensuring that local authorities are able to deliver effective local services without the need to impose excessive increases in council tax. In setting the overall level of grant for 2006-07 and 2007-08, we worked with the Local Government Association to look at the pressures that councils faced, particularly in relation to social services and waste management. The formula grant in 2007-08 therefore includes extra provision, over and above the previous plans, of £508 million.

What justification can there be for Poole council increasing transport costs to day centres by 160 per cent.—affecting vulnerable people—and Dorset county council reducing home care services for people with moderate needs? In the latter case, that is short-sighted if it means that people end up in a residential home sooner rather than later.

The hon. Lady cannot have her cake and eat it. She cannot argue and campaign on the one hand for lower council taxes and on the other for more formula grant. I am aware of the funding settlement campaign that was launched after the finalisation of the settlement—perhaps raising questions about the motive of the campaign. Poole has received extra formula grant and it is for Poole council to determine its priorities.

My hon. Friend will know that my two home local authorities—Barnsley and Doncaster—have lost out to the tune of almost £10 million each because of the damping mechanism deployed for social services this year. Will he give his categoric reassurance to the House that that iniquitous damping mechanism will not be used in next year’s financial settlement?

I commend my hon. Friend for raising the question of double damping. I would say that, rather than losing out, the local authorities have not gained. That is an important point. The impression may have been given that funding has been withdrawn, but it has not. That is more than just semantics. The point that he makes is about the damping mechanism in the social services formula, which is a matter for the review in relation to the 2008-11 settlement later this year.

Has the Minister seen the parliamentary answer that I received last week that shows that the local government grant settlement for East Sussex works out at £160 a head, but the settlement in, for example, Bolton works out at £408 a head? If East Sussex were funded at the same level as Bolton, we would have a further £125 million a year to spend on services. Does that not show the inherent unfairness and regional bias of the Government?

Hon. Members on both sides of the House should be commended for the ingenuity with which they put the special pleading argument. I suggest that the hon. Gentleman take up the point with Lord Heseltine, who devised the council tax system, which no doubt the hon. Gentleman supported at the time.

Does my hon. Friend agree that some of the concerns expressed by the hon. Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole (Annette Brooke) might be addressed by the strength of local area agreements? If so, will he tell us what discussions he has had with the Local Government Association and the Association of Directors of Social Services on this matter?

My hon. Friend makes a very important point. Through local area agreements, supported by the Local Government Association and the Association of Directors of Social Services, which I met last week, we can examine how better co-operation between agencies and partners can result in not only better service provision but better use of public money, both capital procurement and revenue expenditure, through the sharing of decisions, investment and savings. That is the way forward.

The Minister will know that the demands for social care have been rising rapidly—five times faster than the rise in his grant to local authorities. He will also know that the LGA says that a funding gap of £1.8 billion must be closed. What steps are he and the Secretary of State taking to impress on the Chancellor the need to take account of that funding gap in the comprehensive spending review, so that my constituents and those across the country who are in need of care can receive it?

I take very seriously the point that the hon. Gentleman makes. Hon. Members from all parts of the House know that the demands for care services are outpacing even the significant and generous increases in grant that this Government have made.

The hon. Gentleman shakes his head, yet he supports a macro-economic policy that would result in less money being available. We need to have strategies to deal with this. The Government and the LGA analyse demands so that we can take decisions to address the inflationary and other pressures on councils and examine those considerations in the round. I have to disappoint the hon. Member for Hazel Grove (Andrew Stunell), because in my meetings with the Treasury I have not so far found the tree on which the money grows for free. The reality is that the Government have to take decisions about priorities. I invite him to engage in a debate about that.

Hull city council recently told me that it pays double the cost for social care that a very high quality local social enterprise could provide. Does my hon. Friend think that there is still room for local authorities to consider how wisely they are spending their social care budgets?

My hon. Friend makes a very important point, which addresses the real world rather than the other world that the hon. Member for Hazel Grove was addressing. I congratulate local authorities on making great strides forward. Through the Gershon review, local area agreements and their commissioning role, they are, in many cases, finding both the quality and the savings to provide the services that her constituents need.

Does the Minister recognise that as people live longer an increasing number of complex cases of social care arise, costing considerable sums in individual cases? What can be done to ensure that proper care is provided for very frail and vulnerable people, while at the same time ensuring that people who have a great need for care, but not at that deep level, will not lose out because of the resources available?

The hon. Gentleman makes a very important point in a serious way, and all in this House must recognise its truth. Over the past 17 years, while gross domestic product has increased by about 150 per cent., spending on social care has increased by 200 per cent. as a result of the pressures that he recognises. I understand that the Alzheimer’s Society today identified what it analyses as being a £17 billion shortfall.

The Government’s strategy is to address this question through the analysis of the grant and the spending review, as I mentioned in reply to the hon. Member for Hazel Grove, and through the local area agreement process, which allows a much more focused and better use of public funding across the spectrum.

I am pleased that the Government have welcomed the Alzheimer’s Society’s report. However, surely there is some inconsistency here. Will the Minister confirm that under the national health service’s new framework for continuing care, thousands of people will lose their NHS funding for long-term care? There will simply be a transfer to local authorities’ social services departments, and local authorities will face a choice of either raising council tax or cutting help to the people—370,000 are at risk—whom my hon. Friend the Member for West Chelmsford (Mr. Burns) mentioned. The service is at breaking point, so what will the Government do? Will the Minister make a clear case during the summer spending review about the problems that social services will face? Will he tell the Chancellor that because of the Chancellor’s cuts in the health service, the problems can no longer be put aside?

The Government’s approach through the spending review and our arrangements for local area agreement spending, whereby primary care trusts, other health partners and local councils can increasingly work together, is designed to use public money more effectively—that is being achieved—while keeping the taxpayer protected, which I hope the hon. Gentleman will join me in welcoming. The response to the situation is certainly not a policy of reducing expenditure on social care and health. We have a policy of ensuring that primary care trusts balance their budgets and work closely on social care through local authorities to address the public’s needs.