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Lib Dems back legal duty to pool health and care funds

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The Liberal Democrats would look to impose a legal duty to pool health and social care budgets in each locality.

A motion approving the measure, subject to consultation, was passed at the party’s Glasgow conference yesterday.

Under the duty, local commissioners would agree a joint health and wellbeing strategy covering the full health and social care budget.

The lengthy motion dealt with matters related to health, education, public service integration and local transport, based around the creation of ‘better outcome boards’ to integrate local service delivery.

Moving the motion, Julia Goldsworthy, a shadow local government minister until the 2010 general election, said: “Public services do great work but we all know cases where they can be remote and bureaucratic.”

Better outcome boards would be “cross-cutting, bottom-up” bodies that would allow for local decisions and integrated budgets, she added.

The motion was amended by a group of councillors from Cambridgeshire to include a call for powers for NHS commissioners and providers in any area to form single integrated health organisations, subject to endorsement by health and wellbeing boards and approval from the regulator Monitor.

Cambridgeshire CC councillor Killian Bourke said: “This would be an additional option for areas that wanted to form an integrated health body instead of having commissioners on one hand, and then a plethora of competing providers who are focussed on their own interests.”

The party also used the debate to formally endorse the call made last week by health minister Norman Lamb for an extra £1bn for the NHS each year to 2017-18.

Party representatives supported this despite fears that earmarking money this way would leave local government, including social care, and other services in a worse position since health, education and international development spending would all be protected under Lib Dem plans.

Former Reading BC councillor Gareth Epps objected that Mr Lamb’s plans to pay for the £1bn through an increased dividend tax, tightening of the cap on pensions tax relief and ending the Conservatives’ ‘shares for rights’ scheme, largely used money already allocated for other purposes in various Lib Dem policy documents.

“The last two of those three taxes are already earmarked for other things in our [policy papers], so are we going to rob social care to pay for the NHS?” he asked.

Mr Lamb did not directly address this point, but said: “A billion pounds is a sustainable real terms increase. There is immense public support for the NHS.”

He added: “We need to pool health and social care resources locally, with a focus on preventative services, and ensure that social care gets its fair share.”

The conference also accepted an amendment from former Oxford West MP Evan Harris that would repeal any parts of the 2012 Health and Social Care Act that made the NHS “vulnerable to increased privatisations through international agreements on free markets in goods and services”.

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