I declare my interests as a vice-president and former chairman of the Local Government Association.
It is a pleasure to make a brief contribution to this debate on the Government’s set-piece financial statement. The 2018 Budget contained a range of measures that can be welcomed. The Chancellor’s Statement shows that the Government are beginning to listen to local government’s call for much-needed investment in local services. Much more investment will certainly be needed in the long term, but it is good that the Chancellor has acted to provide some new money for councils.
Having served as leader of Bradford Metropolitan District Council and as chairman of the LGA, I know of the pressures facing local services. Indeed, the LGA’s analysis shows that there will be an overall funding gap of £7.8 billion facing local government by 2024-25. Of this, adult social care services face a £3.56 billion gap, just to maintain existing standards of care. It is pleasing, therefore, to see a cross-party consensus that adult social care is in desperate need of support, which is why the additional funding of £240 million for winter pressures is welcome. It will allow councils to better plan their services. Although vital, that funding will address only some of the short-term pressures facing adult social care. That is why a sustainable funding model is now long overdue. I refer noble Lords to the LGA’s timely green paper, and ask the Government to work with councils as they develop their own proposals.
Children’s services are also facing significant funding pressures. The LGA’s latest study shows that social workers are starting new cases for more than 1,000 children each day. The investment of £84 million for children’s social care over five years for programmes in some areas is good news, but councils face a £1 billion shortfall in the next year alone just to keep services running at current levels. With demand rising for special educational needs and disability support, it is important that the Government consider whether adequate funding is available to councils. The proposed changes to high-needs funding should address this. As local leaders gather for the National Children and Adult Services Conference in Manchester this week, I am sure that government Ministers will be taking their messages on board.
Investing in infrastructure is also an important objective of any Government. I am glad, therefore, that Budget Day marked the official abolition of limits on councils’ borrowing to build houses. We must not underestimate what a difference this will make to many communities. Councils are now eager to get on with the job of helping to tackle the housing crisis. It is welcome that they are moving towards resuming their historic role as major housebuilders.
It was also pleasing to see the Chancellor allocate £420 million in additional spending to local roads in 2018-19. This will help councils tackle one of the most important issues for local residents, and will make an impact immediately. The LGA’s latest resident satisfaction survey found that public satisfaction with the condition of local roads is falling. Taking urgent steps to plug the £9 billion roads repair backlog will help to reverse this. Everyone is affected by damaged roads and areas across the country will benefit from the initial funding provided. To maintain our local network, we must now move towards a strategic funding stream for road maintenance.
I commend the Government on a Budget that starts to deliver for local areas. The Chancellor has laid the groundwork for the spending review to address some of the long-term funding issues in areas such as children’s services, adult social care and infrastructure. We must all speak up for these vital services. Investing in local government is good for the nation’s health and well-being, as well as for our economic growth. I know that the Government are listening to this message and I look forward to seeing them work with councils to deliver the much-needed funding for our communities.