What the budget means for us
What does the budget mean for us, our Councils and our future?
Our efforts nationally with the Local Government Association were again significant, consistent and co-ordinated. In response, there is some welcome money and powers for councils. This is against the backdrop of a £7.8bn further shortfall by 2025. These sums are very welcome, but they do not touch the sides of the cuts we have already faced, nor the increasing pressure we currently see. Whether it is called “austerity” or “financial responsibility”, or any other name, we can be under no illusion about the government’s direction. Despite brave talk, the government forecast of growth is small, and our share smaller still, doubly overshadowed both by inflation and by the demographic pressures of more people, living longer with more needs.
The unexpected extra in the chancellor’s box this year, has not been used to reduce the deficit, but has been handed out instead. The situation remains dire, and continuing to blame the EU and now Brexit for our ills may be a convenient scapegoat for the government.
There was very good news in that Adult Care got £650m more, over two years, on top of the £240m for 2018/19. This includes some for Children’s Services in 2019/20, but limited to 20 local authorities. This is against a backdrop of need which we have calculated to be around £5.85bn by 2025. We continue to make the case strongly for a long term funding solution for adult care. A further £55m for adaptations in homes where people are on low incomes and disabled. The money for a new crisis service for mental health was not new, but carved out of the £20.5bn NHS Birthday present, previously announced. Public Health, which drives prevention of health needs, has seen significant cuts since it was handed to Councils and we await to hear the outcome of our lobbying in the 2019 Spending Review.
While many schools are struggling to make ends meet, we have a one-off gift for School’s “nice to have” equipment, granted at £400m, so worth engaging with your local schools on this. There is also £200m for a Youth Endowment Fund in England and Wales to help steer 10-14year olds away from crime. Another one for our councillors to be at the heart, is the “UK Festival Of Innovation and Creativity”, kicked off with a £120m fund. Could these be very useful to you locally?
Colleagues and I have worked hard to demonstrate that the shortage of funds overall has led to significant reductions in some services, including roads. Perhaps responding to my “Vote Conservative, get potholes” experience, the Chancellor has responded once more with another pothole fund of £420m – welcome towards a backlog of repairs recently estimated at many millions. The Government say they will in future, after 2020, allocate the equivalent of the English Vehicle Excise Duty to roads, committing a further £28.8bn over five years to 2025. A further £150m is towards projects to improve roundabouts, and you may want to put some forward from your area. Other specific area-plans are outlined.
There was more support for people going onto Universal credit and the threshold is raised to enable £1000 more to be earned without penalty. The Government accepted the Low Pay Commission’s recommendations to increase the National Living Wage to £8.21/hour from April 2019. There is a welcome reduction on the lower tax threshold. People on bigger salaries gain the most as the upper 40% tax threshold is also reduced.
The push towards recycling away from incineration is European legislation coming through. I noticed the green party were not overly impressed: Whilst we are under dire warnings of the planet losing its natural controls creating dangerous instability, the government continues to support fracking, reduces subsidies on renewables and plans to plant some trees. The relentless drive to build more houses continues with a consultation to allow commercial demolition for housing, under permitted development. What could be useful is £8.5m made available for 500 Parishes to permission land for houses sold at a discount. Could this be a big help for you?
Borrowing Cap on housing
There is one big improvement in this budget in local powers for our Councils. We currently have no limit on venture capital to build what we like, so long as it is not council housing, the very thing we need. This cap was removed on October 29th. It is accompanied by more money for infrastructure, making that fund now £5.5bn. Our members continually raise the “right to buy” as a serious problem, making most council house building unaffordable. We continue calls for Councils to be allowed to choose where to allow the “right to buy”, to set the discount rate and to retain all of the funds.
Future High Streets
A welcome £675m is to be available for infrastructure, access and heritage restoration for our High Streets and bring properties back into use. Now what would be our number one project for that?
Lincolnshire Independents in particular have called for a fairer digital business tax. From 2020, 2% will be sought from certain big businesses. We shall see if this helps our competing High Streets. There is no news on whether health premises will be exempt from business rates. A third of businesses will be taken out of business rates as the threshold is raised, and Councils will be compensated at the outset. We called for 100% of the business rates to be retained by Councils. So far it is set at 75%, with the current exception of the 100% retaining pilots authorities, for now.
The full briefing from the Local Government Association is here.
These sums are small compared to what we have lost and what we need, but very welcome, nonetheleass. Let’s hope it continues and Brexit is not used as a scapegoat in future!
EU Nationals standing in May
As you know, we have lobbied hard to get an answer about EU nationals being able to stand at the next election and keep their seat for the period of office. The LGA finally submitted a formal question to Cabinet to get a clear The answer arrived this week – yes.