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Tony Travers: DH can see councils are better at financial control

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Theresa May has started 2018 with a reshuffle of her Cabinet. The reshuffle did not go according to plan, notably because some senior figures refused to be moved. 

Jeremy Hunt stayed on as health secretary, while Justine Greening resigned when told she was being offered Work & Pensions instead of the education department. David Gauke became the sixth justice secretary since 2010. Greg Clark remained at BEIS, despite a reported desire on the prime minister’s part to replace him with Mr Hunt.

Having clung to his position, the health secretary has had ‘and social care’ added to his job title. Whether this change signals a more radical shift of policy remains to be seen. Back in the 2010 spending review, the government transferred what was called the ‘personal social services grant’ into the formula grant. Thereafter, councils have been responsible for determining children’s and adults’ funding levels.

It is possible the health department will seek to regain control of part or all of social care spending. The adult care precept already involves a degree of ringfencing of local taxation. But the Treasury is likely to resist any suggestions of a transfer of responsibility: if councils’ funding on social care had increased at the rate of NHS spending in the years from 2009-10 to 2017-18, it would be some £2.5bn higher than it is today. Local government is far better at spending control than Whitehall.

Sajid Javid has had the word ‘housing’ added to his title, though his department will now be the ‘Ministry’ of Housing, Communities and Local Government. We are now almost back to the pre-1970 title of Ministry of Housing & Local Government. As with the change in title at the health department, only time will tell if variations in nomenclature lead to any perceptible effect on policy.

Brandon Lewis, part of the Pickles regime at the Department for Communities & Local Government, has been made Conservative chairman. He will now find himself having to charm the party’s remaining activist base, including Tory councillors who are the most resilient part of a small band of members.

The reshuffle will not affect the quality of government. Only stable and effective policy-making and delivery would do that.

Tony Travers, director, LSE London

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