My Lords, I draw attention to my local government interests, as recorded in the register. Public services provided through local government are the bedrock on which people build their daily lives. Where a council such as Kensington and Chelsea has fallen far short in providing critical services, as demonstrated in recent events, then the elected leader of that council should be accountable and, as I said in this House a week ago, that leader should resign.
Public services provided locally such as schools, decent affordable homes, safe roads, a clean environment, places to exercise, public health and care for the most vulnerable in our communities, old and young, are the vital services that local government provides. These same services have endured the largest cuts of all, and the impact is serious. One million vulnerable older people are not getting the care they need. Children in need are not getting the support they deserve. There are more roads with potholes. Community places for leisure, such as libraries, parks and play areas, are being closed; the list goes on.
A recently appointed government spokesman has already commented that the days of austerity must end. He said that the voters have spoken, and I agree. However, it seems that austerity is set to continue, unless the Government need to buy your support. So the lucky people of Northern Ireland, who already have the most invested in their public services, will have even better services. Meanwhile, residents in all other parts of the UK will continue to feel the impact of more cuts to the services provided through local government for at least the next three years. For many, the worst is yet to come.
The gracious Speech had just two lines to address these huge challenges:
“My Ministers will work to improve social care and will bring forward proposals for consultation”.
This is despite the fact that the Government already agreed, in the last Parliament, with the independent Dilnot proposals for funding social care—and despite the fact that social care funding is already in crisis, as expressed by care providers, the commissioners of care and carers. Local authorities are not able to ensure that all vulnerable adults will get the support that they need now; a further long delay in improving the funding can only make matters worse. All estimates of the funding gap, be it from the Local Government Association or the Institute of Fiscal Studies, calculate that unless there is dramatic change, the gap will be £2.6 billion in two years’ time. How local government could do with accessing the same DUP money tree.
On all other local public services, the gracious Speech is silent. Children’s social services will continue to be cut. One local authority I know well has had to cut these services by 25% over the next three years simply to make the books balance. Services for the most vulnerable children in our communities will get worse.
The Conservative Party manifesto referred to the need to improve residential roads and fill potholes. That cannot be done with continued cuts to funding. In that same manifesto, there is talk of strong support for access to the arts and culture outside London, yet local facilities such as libraries—400 of which have been already been closed—local museums—two of the four in my area are closing now—and funding for music have been absolutely slashed.
Schools funding is being unfairly cut, jeopardising children’s futures. All this amounts to a complete failure by the Government to take proper regard for the provision of these essential local services. We need more money. Alternatively, we could all move to Northern Ireland.