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Local Government Responsibilities: Public Services

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:59 pm on 18th March 2020.

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Photo of David Linden David Linden Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Housing, Communities and Local Government) 3:59 pm, 18th March 2020

I start by thanking the Opposition for bringing forward today’s debate. I wish to approach my speech in two parts: first, to address the effect of the coronavirus pandemic; and then to finish with some comments on the social care system more generally.

I think we would all agree that this is an appropriate opportunity to thank, and indeed to pay tribute to, our public services workers, who are under enormous pressure at the moment, as we battle with the impact of covid-19. One of my big concerns as we deal with this crisis is that we run the risk of overlooking the needs of special populations within our society. That point was made by Mr Baron earlier. A great many people rely on our social care system and, understandably, they are very worried at the moment.

If we put ourselves in the shoes of someone who depends on visits by carers each day just to carry out our basic daily functions, we can imagine the anxiety felt. I know that organisations in Glasgow East are already scaling back some of their activities, and this will inevitably lead to increased isolation that will only serve to deepen their concerns. I very much endorse the comments made by the shadow Minister, Barbara Keeley, about PPE. For my own part, as a constituency MP, I am trying to co-ordinate and engage with community organisations and stakeholders to ensure that these issues are addressed and that problems of gaps in service are quickly addressed.

I am aware that today’s debate focuses specifically on local government and social care. Although that is devolved, I thought it would be helpful to outline briefly the situation north of the border. The Scottish Government are allocating resources over and above Barnett consequentials to support frontline spending on healthcare in Scotland, and they will be providing all the support that local authorities need in the coming months, as we face unprecedented demand. Although not necessarily to repeat what the UK Government are saying, we certainly endorse “whatever it takes” in that regard. We are increasing our package of investment in social care and integration by 14% to £811 million in the 2020-21 budget to ensure that health and social care services are fully joined up for patients and to ensure that the actions taken by local authorities have the desired effect of reducing demand.

There are some really good models across the country that I want to draw to the attention of the House ever so briefly. East Lothian health and social care partnership has put in place a short-term assessment and rehabilitation team to reduce delays. Along with other measures, this led to a 44% reduction in bed days lost between 2012-13 and 2018-19. Likewise, Inverclyde has introduced a “home first” approach to ensure that returning home is the first option in the majority of discharge situations. That model saw an 82% reduction in bed days lost between 2012-13 and 2018-19. In spring 2016, Aberdeenshire established virtual community wards as an alternative to hospital-based care, with 93% of GP practices participating, and it was estimated that 1,640 hospital admissions had been avoided.

It is therefore possible to do many innovative things to meet the challenges of social care, but the fact is that we are all living longer and we are going to have major workforce issues in social care, some of which have been discussed today. In the future, it would certainly be beneficial to have a UK Government who were more willing to listen to policy suggestions from the Opposition side of the House. If there is one thing that the current crisis has shown, it is that cross-party working is essential to tackle major problems. I hope that is a lesson we have all learned and that we will learn over the coming weeks, particularly as we emerge from the other side of the coronavirus outbreak.

I want to turn to local government and our support for statutory services. The Scottish budget for 2020-21 has increased revenue funding for local government, and the SNP has empowered local authorities to raise additional income if they wish. Additional revenue funding, taken together with potential council tax income, means that councils have the potential to access another £724 million of revenue funding in 2020-21. Throughout the coming weeks and months, it will also be vital to reassess our social care systems right across the UK to ensure that they are properly resourced to deal with the mounting and certainly unprecedented crisis.

Whether in social care or local government, in Scotland we are certainly meeting the challenges of the day with a focus on protecting budgets and supporting the most vulnerable in society. Although very uncertain, we will certainly rise to face the challenges of tomorrow in the weeks ahead.