LGiU at the party conferences

Nick Gibb MP, Cllr Nickie Aiken, Jon Richards and Andy Sawford (c) Andrew Wiard

The LGiU held two fringe events at each party conference on the funding of adult social care ‘Local care or social care: funding care post Dilnot’ (with Partnership). and ‘Hands On – What role for local authorities in education?’ (with the NUT and Unison).

At the meetings on the role for local authorities in education Andy Sawford talked about the new research report The future of local government’s role in the school system – which includes a survey of 80 children’s services leaders. This found that leaders of children’s services had major concerns about the ability to format their roles and that 90 per cent said that they should have the power to intervene.

He felt that there had been a political consensus for 30 years that local government was the problem. The diagnosis was improving the education system, but there was a reality gap between where local authorities were with schools and how politicians spoke about them, particularly in regard to control.

He said that local authorities were trying to innovate, but the environment was challenging. Speakers at the events agreed there was still a strong role for councils, even if that was changing.

There were, however, different views on how successful councils had been in improving education: David Laws MP, for example, felt that local authority oversight had not always been as good as the panel had suggested. Over a long period of time the description of education had not been a happy one, and Mr Laws felt that at times there had been something of a conspiracy to keep poor standards quiet in some local authorities. He said that the system of improving standards was not working.

Andy Burnham MP, shadow education secretary, speaking at the event at the Labour conference stated that Labour needed to rehabilitate ‘comprehensive education – people were not sufficiently proud of it’. The role of local authorities needed to be rethought, but they ‘most definitely’ needed a hands-on role – in scrutiny, planning places and securing fair admissions.

Andy Burnham MP and Christine Blower (c) Andrew Wiard

In the social care fringes, LGiU and Partnership speakers put forward the arguments set out in the joint report Independent Ageing: council support for care self-funders.

They focused on the challenges of caring for our ageing population and how council budgets for adult social care would be even more stretched were it not for the contributions that individuals make to their own care. However, self-funders also represent a significant risk for councils from those who begin by funding their own care but fall back on state funding when their own means run out.

A speaker at the Liberal Democrat fringe spelled out graphically the increase in life expectancy which in the developing world is going up by two years per decade, five hours a day, 12 seconds per minute, telling the audience that by the end of the meeting, their death will have receded by 12 minutes.

Radical solutions will be needed to meet the challenges of an ageing population. Changes to our economies, lifestyles and population movements all indicate that we live increasingly fragmented lives and will have to make more provision for ourselves. The public’s misconception that care funding is free was discussed and the key role councils must play in providing financial advice.

Michelle Mitchell from AgeUK felt strongly that we should not frame the debate in negative terms and should celebrate living longer. The care system was, however, in crisis now. Dilnot is important and is a basis for consensus but there are real concerns that it will run out of steam.

Paul Burstow MP said that there was genuine government commitment to a thorough overhaul of social care and this included implementing the Law Commission’s proposals on rationalising social care legislation. He stressed the need for portability so that people can move their care plans around and that Dilnot is not just about state provision but is about people making decisions about their own futures.

Michelle Mitchel, Andy Sawford and Stephen Dorrell MP (c) Andrew Wiard

At the Conservative fringe Stephen Dorrell MP said that the real challenge is delivery of an integrated service to users, and a holistic system, where health care is a minority interest. Councillor Rod Bluh, Leader of Swindon agreed that integration is the key, but said that even with innovative solutions to integration between health and social care locally, there was just not enough money in the system. Given these pressures, social care is the most important strategic and budgetary priority for Swindon.