The Tory leader of one of the largest local authorities in England is minded to turn down the government’s offer of raising the social care precept by 3% in each of the next two years while other prominent leaders have likened the proposal to being put between “a rock and a hard place” ahead of county elections in less than six months time.
Communities secretary Sajid Javid confirmed in the local government finance settlement yesterday that top tier councils would be able to raise the social care precept by up to 3% in 2017-18 and 2018-19. Doing so would generate up to £652m for councils to spend on social care, he said, but that is dependent on every council taking up the offer.
Paul Carter (Con) said Kent CC had already budgeted on the basis it would raise the social care precept by 2% in each of the next three years.
He told LGC that adding an extra 1% on top of that in the next two years would make “very little difference over the medium-term” – about £5m extra to its net revenue budget of about £888m in 2017-18 – and he wanted to keep council tax bills “as low as possible”.
“If we needed to dip into the reserves for about £5m instead of putting up the precept by an extra 1% we probably would,” said Cllr Carter.
LGC analysis showed Kent CC stood to gain £4.6m as a result of savings from the new homes bonus being redirected to fund social care services. Cllr Carter, who is also chair of County Councils Network, said that was “helpful”. He added that it was “very much at the back of our minds” that there are county council elections in May 2017.
Warwickshire CC is already consulting on budget proposals based on a 2% social care precept increase next year. While leader Izzi Seccombe (Con), who is also chair of the Local Government Association’s community wellbeing board, said an extra 1% “helps” she added it was “not a long-term solution” and “we still have a problem”.
She likened the proposal to being put between “a rock and a hard place” and added next year’s election complicated matters, especially as Warwickshire is in a state of no overall control.
“There’s a balance between doing what’s right, doing what we can, and doing what’s acceptable,” said Cllr Seccombe. “It’s a really difficult balance for members on local authorities to see where the scale lands between the loss of services and increases in council tax.”
Martin Tett (Con), Buckinghamshire CC’s leader, agreed.
“It’s putting us in a difficult position in so far as we will be going to the electorate with effectively a 5% increase in council tax [made up of the 3% precept and a 2% increase in regular council tax] and that is an uncomfortable position to be in,” he told LGC.
Cllr Tett said raising the precept by an extra 1% over two years made “diddly squat difference” to Buckinghamshire compared to raising it by the previous 2% threshold in each of the next three years.
“It doesn’t go anywhere near meeting the financial challenge we have in Buckinghamshire,” he said, and added his council had about £2.5m unidentified savings in adult social care next year alone.
However, Cllr Tett said the “worry” he had was if the government changed its policy in the future which meant councils would no longer be able to raise 2% for social care in each of the next three years.
Alan Rhodes (Lab), leader of Nottinghamshire CC, said making a decision was “certainly not easy”. He called Mr Javid’s offer a “joke” and felt the government was “turning its face against us”.
He said it was “unacceptable” and the government “either don’t know what they are doing or they don’t care”.
“We don’t think it’s acceptable for social care to be funded increasingly by taxation,” said Cllr Rhodes.
Roger Croft (Con), leader of West Berkshire Council, was also undecided about what to do. He said: “Our concern is if we take it that will be very helpful for a short period of time but there will be no rise in 2019-20 so we have got to look carefully at how we do that.”
Leaders express doubts over taking up 3% care precept offer
However, Sunderland City Council’s leader Paul Watson (Lab) said he was “minded” to take up the offer. That was despite the fact it will be “a difficult sell to the public” and the funds it will raise will be “a drop in the ocean to what’s needed” due to the low council tax base in his area.