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EXCLUSIVE: Kerslake warns local government will not be priority

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Former civil service head Lord Kerslake has warned local government that it will have to “make its own entertainment for a while” as the Conservatives’ failure to win a majority means ministers’ attention turns elsewhere.

However, in an exclusive LGC interview, the former Sheffield City Council and Hounslow LBC chief executive said he believed progress could be made on social care funding reform and in stopping further public sector funding cuts.

The Crossbench peer, who also served as permanent secretary at the Department for Communities & Local Government, told LGC that while the political instability was resolved “local government will have to make its own entertainment for a while”. He added: “It won’t be ‘front of room’ for the government whichever party ends up being in government.”

He continued: “There’s a fair degree of consensus that the big issue that worked against the Conservatives is that people have had enough of public spending reductions and austerity.

“People are worried about the health service and care. There will be a big and early drive to make progress on that.”

Lord Kerslake described social care funding reform as “unavoidable as an issue that needs to be addressed”, and insisted it would not be “put on the back burner” despite the lack of majority government.

He predicted some sort of short-term fix to the issue would emerge while a more open “long debate” occurred. His preference is for a “national commission” to look at fair funding.

The debacle over the Tories’ election commitments on social care funding reform should not deter others from seeking solutions, Lord Kerslake said. “What they got wrong was putting an answer in their manifesto when they had put in no ground work.”

The election result challenged preconceptions about the disengagement of young people, he said, predicting policy-makers would seek to give their needs a higher priority in future.

Lord Kerslake queried whether the full localisation of business rates would be pursued by a minority government in which “it’s twice as hard to push anything through and you have to ruthlessly prioritise”. He added: “There’s a risk it will be pushed back.”

On devolution, he said: “It seems unlikely that you will have a government that comes in and demands that ‘these things will move in this direction’. On the Northern Powerhouse, local government will have to develop its own leadership.” This would “prepare the ground for when we have a clearer national leadership”.

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