Morwen Millson

Liberal Democrat Councillor for Horsham Riverside Division Learn more

Health and Social Care crisis – and why the Lib Dems voted to increase Council Tax

by morwenmillson on 20 February, 2018

Northamptonshire County Council recently announced an emergency ban on all new spending, other than for statutory services for vulnerable people. The authority says it is facing ‘severe financial challenges’. This is the first time this has happened to a County Council in over 20 years.

Before last autumn’s budget, the Local Government Association warned that demand for care services for children and adults was rising rapidly, and core funding from the Government was disappearing. By 2019/20 almost 60p in every £1 paid in council tax in England and Wales could be spent on social care – with little left for fixing roads, looking after the countryside, libraries, waste disposal, housing, leisure and all the other services valued by local people.

In November, a cross-party group of 90 MPs called on the Government to address the growing crisis in the NHS and social care, because the knock-on effect of lack of timely support for some vulnerable people was having a serious and long-term effect on NHS services. Theresa May’s response to this plea – which took two months to reach the authors – failed to pick up the challenge, prompting condemnation from many Conservative MPs who had signed the letter.

Many people in Local Government believe that Northamptonshire will not be the last local authority to declare an emergency on its spending, unless the Government acts to deal with this impending NHS and Social Care crisis. We should not risk West Sussex being one of these authorities.

West Sussex County Council met on 16th February to debate its budget. The Conservative proposal was for an increase of 4.95%. This is not quite the maximum increase in council tax allowed by the Government, but includes a 3% special levy for Social Care. For all the reasons above, it will not be enough to prevent extremely difficult pressures – cuts! – to other vital services.

Some may say that the Liberal Democrats, as the official opposition on West Sussex County Council, should vote against this increase. However, we believed that the Council needed an increase of the maximum allowed by the Government! Therefore we proposed that Council Tax should rise by 5.95%, as it is necessary to protect our services. Only by demonstrating that nothing less was enough could we send a message to the Government that it needs to act to help us.

However, I am not optimistic that the Government will act. Our Conservative Government has backed itself into a corner over Brexit and seems willing to destroy the British economy, and possibly the United Kingdom itself, in order to save the Conservative Party. The amount of money it could cost to extract the country from the European Union is still not agreed. In addition, the problems over the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, the difficulties for importers at Dover if we are to leave the customs union, and many other issues would challenge a united and innovative Government, let alone the sorry crowd that currently has the job.

It is no wonder that the Government has no energy left to solve the problems facing the country.

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