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'Piecemeal' precept proposal should not detract from finding social care solution

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LGC’s commentary on reported government plan to increase the social care council tax precept

With the disappointment of the Autumn Statement still being keenly felt across local government, it has emerged that the prime minister is likely to sanction giving councils the power to raise the council tax precept beyond the 2% currently permitted.

While this greater flexibility has been welcomed the general consensus was that, in isolation, this would be a wholly inadequate response to the scale of a funding crisis that is pushing care services to the brink of collapse.

Lord Porter (Con), chair of the Local Government Association, told LGC that “piecemeal” measures on a local level would not solve the problem while Richard Humphries of the Kings Fund said the measure would raise a “relatively small amount of money”.

Former Conservative health secretary Stephen Dorrell, who is now chair of the NHS confederation, warned the government’s approach could soon result in “a crisis that develops out of control”.

When LGC learned last month the measure to raise referendum thresholds was being considered in cabinet, it was argued that an increased precept was unlikely to raise the significant funds required in areas that needed it most due to significant variations in the council tax base nationally.

The LGA has also raised concerns that, in certain areas, raising council tax amounted to “penalising poor people to pay for even poorer people”.

Communities secretary Sajid Javid has himself acknowledged that there was a question mark over whether the £3.5bn made available for social care through the precept and improved better care fund was sufficient.

Lord Porter is adamant that Mr Javid is making the argument for significant action on social care to his cabinet colleagues and a range of options are being considered.

But the fact that Lord Porter believes some of Mr Javid’s fellow ministers do not fully understand the scale of the social care challenge does not bode well for further good news in the impending local government finance settlement.

This is compounded by news that during a Number 10 lobby briefing this morning, a spokesperson for the prime minister reportedly insisted that money was not the only issue and suggested poor local authority management was contributing to problems in social care.

Even if short term action is taken in the financial settlement, which will reportedly taking place on Thursday this week, there will remain a pressing need for a debate on how social care is funded and delivered in the future.

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