Headlines: September 20th, 2007

Council leaders have been told they will have to begin a mature debate with the local electorate over what care services can continue to be provided without charge, because the forthcoming Comprehensive Spending Review may be tight. Sir Simon Milton, chairman of the Local Government Association, has issued the warning in a letter to senior councillors.

In it he told them that if next month’s Spending Review fails to deliver investment in preventative services for the increasing number of older people in England, they will need to have frank discussions with the public about which services can and should be delivered for free. At the same time the LGA is calling on the Government to move 0.5 per cent of funding expected to go to the NHS to preventative services instead. The LGA believes that would bring long-term savings for hospitals as well as improving the lives of older people.

In the letter, Sir Simon said, “There are only two areas of Government spending which have not been decided yet, for councils and the National Health Service. It appears likely the coming years will see a period of austerity that councils will not have seen for more than a decade.” The situation, he said, was stark and he went on to explain that if the settlement was at the upper, end of expectations – a two per cent increase in real terms – councils could be close to a sustainable position if they were prepared to increase council tax by close to the 5 per cent unofficial ‘capping’ level. If the settlement was at the lower end of expectations councils would face real difficulties.

Sir Simon said that in the next three years there would be more than 400,000 more older people, many of them needing social care and without additional funding councils might face a situation by 2009 where they could not afford to provide support to 370,000 people with lower levels of need. “A poor funding settlement for local government will inevitably place pressure on both council tax and services,” his letter said.