Newham LBC’s new elected mayor has faced heckles at the Local Government Association conference over her calls for more government funding for social care without explaining where the money would come from.
Social care prominently featured in a ‘question time’ style session at the conference in Birmingham yesterday.
Rokhsana Fiaz (Lab), only eight weeks into the role, criticised the government’s continued austerity plans, and called for more central government money, but did not respond to repeated probing on where this would be found.
“There needs to be a serious, substantive conversation with government because it’s just not sustainable – the position that the current government is pursuing,” she said.
“It doesn’t help when the fundamental basis on which these decisions are being made is the pursuit of an ideologically driven austerity agenda, or simply ensuring that the bottom line in terms of figures all add up, where there is no consequent consideration around the social impact of these measures.”
Ms Fiaz added there was a need for government to “get real … actually acknowledging, understanding and accepting the impact of what they’re doing” and that it was “really as simple as that”.
“It’s a combination of government recalculating its approach so there is more money frankly to local government, in addition to ongoing efficiency gains being driven by local authorities,” she said.
Her response was greeted with audible dissent from the audience, with one man shouting the phrase “magic money tree”, a Conservative attack slogan against Labour spending during the last general election.
When Ms Fiaz claimed she had responded to the question, a section of the audience jeered.
By contrast, Baroness Cathy Bakewell, a Liberal Democrat councillor on South Somerset DC, openly called for a progressive tax to fund social services.
“We cannot duck the issue here – this has to be a tax-raising issue,” she said.
“It has to be a percentage tax for children and adult social care. Not a flat rate because that penalises those on low incomes and lets those on high incomes off scot free.”
Izzi Seccombe (Con), deputy chairman of LGA and Warwickshire CC leader, said that the one issue she would put before government ministers was a “solution for social care”.
“For me it’s social care, but almost as equal is we’ve got to have a solution for children’s services, because in many ways I think the new growing crisis that’s coming is around special educational needs,” she said.
“There are a number of emerging mushrooms coming up which keep us awake at night as leaders of local government.”