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'The lack of social care investment will scupper economic growth'

Andrew Burns
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As the dust settles on the autumn statement, what does it mean for local public services?

What role can local government play to ensure that we have a growing economy that works for all?

Whilst welcoming that the government has put infrastructure investment and productivity at the heart of its plans for a more inclusive economic policy the initial headline responses from local government were a combination of shock and disappointment that the chancellor did not deliver additional funding for social care.

The absence of new investment in social care will call into question the sustainability of services and local care markets, to the detriment of vulnerable citizens and the ability of the NHS to deliver the government’s efficiency programme through local sustainability and transformation plans.

The local government finance settlement expected in the coming weeks provides the next practical opportunity to make more explicit the connection between sustainability of local health and social care markets and more inclusive economic growth.

Inclusive growth in an economy that works for all also needs investment in social infrastructure; in skills; in health and care provision; in criminal justice and welfare reform alongside the investment in transport, housing and digital connectivity that the chancellor has announced.

The modern workforce increasingly has care responsibilities for children and elderly parents. In order to raise incomes and living standards they will need additional access to good child care and respite care in order to be fully able to exploit their skills to increase earnings.

Rather than thinking of health and social care as a drag on the public purse, why not as an economic sector that can grow and modernise through digital investment and innovative approaches that exploit the assets and capabilities of local communities, not just the perceived gaps in provision?

Approaches need to better align investment in physical and social infrastructure will vary across the country with different issues, challenges and opportunities in the counties, cities towns and villages in our regions.

Local place-based approaches are needed to do this effectively and the best local political leaders can rise to this challenge as part of the devolution agenda but that still seems to be a medium- to long-term issue.

However the social care system is in crisis today and without significant additional funding councils will need to reduce care services, community support and broader universal services to meet their legal duty to balance the budget.

Despite the silence in the autumn statement the chancellor has said that discussions are continuing on social care funding.

Our lobbying efforts and responses to the local government finance settlement need to explain the impact on local care markets, the NHS and on local economies of the benefits of investment in social care, not just the costs of doing so.

Andrew Burns, director of finance and resources, Staffordshire CC

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