Commentary on national turmoil - eight days before Brexit
Today’s LGC research: Lawyers wanted: Legal workforce on the rise
Today’s order from upon high: Minister: Public health must be at the top table
Today’s Brexit calamity: Brexit visa plan ‘will not work’ for social care, report warns
Public health minister Steve Brine this morning promised a prevention green paper by the parliamentary summer recess. Whoopee doo.
This sarcastic refrain is, I assure you, is not indicative of any lack of LGC support for the refocusing of the care system in favour of prevention rather than merely treating illness. It is just that such pledges are no longer credible. Any government minister’s promise must be taken with a pinch of salt right now (even when uttered by a minister whose surname isn’t Brine).
The social care green paper has been subject to a series of delays stretching back to the days the May administration was in short trousers. The prime minister’s Downing Street tenure has now surely reached the stage in its life cycle when it itself requires social care (and will deserve to discover the deficiencies brought about by underfunding that this government has not rectified).
Of course, it’s not only social care that has been neglected in recent times. Funding for local government is another issue that has been ignored. Services are having to be cut, council staff are becoming ever more demoralised and residents are getting a poorer deal. But nothing happens – the government’s attention is elsewhere.
Today, the Institute for Fiscal Studies has issued a report on which taxes could be devolved to local control. It makes a case for the freedom to levy tourist taxes (a no brainer, if ever there was one, surely?) and has “concluded that income tax would be the only sensible candidate for devolution within England”.
The argument expressed by the IFS’s Neil Amin Smith in an LGC article is compelling. However, the ability to make a strong case far from guarantees that it gains the attention of ministers. As we all know, only one thing has traction right now. LGC has already urged ministers to avoid holding a multi-year spending review when they collectively lack the bandwidth to walk and chew gum at the same time.
Our biggest challenges as a nation have been ignored. Local services, climate change, regional economic inequities and the need to maintain living standards when many current jobs will disappear have barely been debated. Instead, the last two years have been dedicated solely to bringing about something that the Bank of England estimates will reduce GDP by 1.25% to 10.5%, compared to May 2016 projections. One feels nostalgic for the era when things were done in the expectation that they would make us more prosperous.
So having got through 431 words of this LGC briefing without mentioning it, let’s get finally use the B-word. Yes, Brexit is due to happen next Friday and we’ve got no idea what’s going to happen. Britain is teetering on the edge of ‘no deal’ (the more disastrous end of the Bank of England’s GDP decline estimates) and our national politicians seem powerless to break the impasse. Even if Theresa May somehow gets a deal through, our nation’s prestige and reputation for stable governance is in tatters.
Our national government was led by a prime minister who was against Brexit but who brought it about before it was led by a prime minister who promised a Brexit by a certain date but failed to bring it about, or to get a deal through Parliament. No one has demonstrated a coherent post-Brexit vision. Jeremy Corbyn’s decision yesterday evening to walk out of emergency talks between party leaders at a time of national crisis was perhaps the most spectacular demonstration so far of his inability to offer an alternative government.
Whether its future lies inside or outside the European Union, Britain has been damaged and its national politicians found wanting. Now is the time for our local politicians to offer a vision to overcome the challenges so neglected by their Westminster counterparts.
Nick Golding, editor