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Fears Whitehall 'inertia' could thwart health devo deal

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Liverpool City Region has opened discussions with central government over a health and social care devolution deal but there are fears progress could been hindered by Whitehall “inertia”.

Joe Anderson (Lab), Liverpool city mayor and chair of the combined authority, confirmed to LGC that attempts had been made to secure greater investment and control over budgets in the region in a bid to address mounting pressures on social care budgets.

But he said he was unwilling for councils to take on shared responsibility for the debts of local NHS trusts in the process – as happened with the flagship health and care devolution deal agreed in Greater Manchester.

Mr Anderson said while talks were due to resume with central government, he expected slow progress due to government officials focussing on other policy priorities.

Mr Anderson told LGC: “We are trying to ask central government to do a deal with us… but I don’t want, like Manchester, to take on a huge debt with health. I am prepared to do a devolution deal but not just to swallow up debt.

“But there is an inertia in Whitehall with people tied up talking about Brexit and Donald Trump.”

Mr Anderson said Liverpool City Council’s budget had reduced by £440m, or 48%, since 2010 and was set to fall to £520m by the end of this parliament.

He is critical of both the government and his own party in Westminster, accusing MPs of not appreciating the scale of pressures on adult social care services.

Mr Anderson said: “That’s the Westminster bubble. They just don’t get it and I include the opposition in that.

“The reality is that they are all the same - not one of them are fully aware of the challenges, not only cities but places elsewhere in the country face.”

Liverpool City Council’s director of adult services and health Samih Kalakeche has resigned citing concerns that the council may not be able to fulfil its statutory requirements in two years due to underfunding.

In November Liverpool City Council abandoned a proposed 10% council tax rise, with 6% ringfenced for social care, following a public consultation.

Mr Anderson said the council would continue to support vulnerable people, but added it is being forced to make increasing cuts to other service areas in order to maintain adult and children’s services.

These include the closure of libraries and one-stop shops, less investment in regeneration and making 200 staff redundant in 2017-18.

Mr Anderson said: “We have cut the flesh but we’re down to the bone. It is going to be hard to see how we will manage budgets, but manage we will.

“I do not think we will fall over because we will have to make sure we are going to protect the vulnerable, and grow our economy more so we can be sustainable.”

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