Mr Chairman, Fellow Councillors,
Suffolk County Council exists for a purpose. It is to make the lives of the residents of Suffolk better than they would have been if the County Council did not exist. It is to do the things that need to be done which would not be done better by someone else. It is to help the people who could not easily help themselves. It is to enable the changes for the better which we all want to see, but which will not just come about of their own accord.
As Councillors we glibly speak about “services”, but we need to remind ourselves what those services are. People cannot put out their own fires, or rescue themselves from car-crashes. People are not going to jump out of their cars to mend the holes in the road in front of them.
People whose families are in chaos are not going to give themselves dispassionate advice and emotional support and temporary respite provision to prevent their children from being taken into care. People are certainly not going to organise their own children to be taken into care, even when it is, unfortunately, the best option.
And people who have fought for this country, who have worked all their lives and paid their taxes and National Insurance, people who have made Suffolk the prosperous County which it is, are not going to be able to build their own care homes or commission their own domiciliary care packages.
This Council plays a crucial role in the lives of each and every one of Suffolk’s residents. I’m not at all sure that all Suffolk’s residents necessarily appreciate that. In fact, I’m not entirely clear that everyone in this room appreciates that. But we can all see the consequences when that role is not being properly fulfilled:
- Potholed Roads
- Ever slower response times to Fires and other emergencies
- More & more children being taken into care
- Residential Homes being closed down or rated inadequate and elderly people being stuck in Hospital
Fellow Councillors, this Council provides statutory services, responsibilities which we cannot shirk. However much we might hate spending money, if this Council has to take a child into care, and if that care cannot be provided in this County, and if that means that the child has to be placed in an out-of-county placement, then this Council has to pay the financial cost of that – we can’t wriggle out of it, we have no choice, it is a legal requirement. And if an elderly person has conditions which make it impossible for their relatives to cope with caring for them at home, we have a legal duty to arrange residential care for them unless they can afford to pay for themselves.
So whatever we do, however difficult the financial position this government – or the next government – might decide to put us in, we have to pay for those statutory services, and if we continue to cut the budget allocated to those services we stand in very real danger of either failing in our statutory duties or in writing a completely unreasonable budget which bears no relation to reality. And in fact, our officers in Adult Social Care have warned us all that this is the case – there is the very real possibility of a £5 million – £10 million overspend on Adult Social Care in order to meet our statutory obligations.
Cllr Smith has based his case on a vengeful implacable government that will continue to cut Local Government’s spending power forevermore. Well, any government which can cut £200 million from the real-terms spending power of this Council and still expect us to fulfil our statutory obligations is certainly vengeful and implacable. All I can say is that I am very glad that I didn’t vote for them and if Cllr Smith believes that the government, and the Party that runs it, will continue to take this attitude, perhaps he should do something about it by leaving the Party and campaigning against them.
But can this attitude really continue forevermore? Councillors, I can tell you now, if you vote for our amendment, and this authority decides to spend an additional £16 million per annum on revenue, we will still be a financially viable authority in four years’ time, even if the government continues on its present course. But there are a lot of authorities that won’t. Can you really see the government – even a Conservative government that hates the North – allowing Liverpool and Lancashire and Durham and Cumbria and umpteen other authorities to become completely bankrupt? What are they going to do – introduce direct rule from Westminster?
If you subtract £16 million from £191million, and then do so again next year, and again the year after, and so on, it is perfectly possible to do this for four years without bankrupting this Council. And Councillors, can I just say how saddened and disgusted I was to see that some at least of the Conservatives have been delivering leaflets telling voters that Labour would bankrupt the Council in 5 weeks – it’s a deliberate lie, it’s a preposterous lie, and I had thought we were above such things in Suffolk.
So whatever happens we will need to spend money on our statutory services. And you may well have to spend more than you are budgeting for – as your own officers have warned – because it is the most expensive interventions which are also the ones which this council is not legally allowed to avoid paying where necessary.
But how much better it would be to spend the money on things which prevent those interventions from being necessary! Can you not see the link between a cut in family social workers and a rise in the number of children being taken into care? Can you not understand that a more comprehensive package of high-quality home care and respite breaks would enable many more families to continue to care for their frail parents at home? What part of resurfacing a whole road properly so that it does not develop potholes in the first place do you not get?
The National Audit Office this week reported that the Better Care Fund has not delivered the target of savings from integrating Social Care and Health. I cannot say I was surprised. We on this side of the chamber are fully behind attempts to achieve Health & Social Care Integration, but there needs to be a complete change in the way that the 2 areas of provision work together, and it needs to start with investment and long-term commitment.
We believe in Health & Social Care integration because we believe it can deliver better services and help people keep healthier and happier – and in time it may very well save money as well. But the money will NOT be saved if you try to take the savings before you have made the investment and achieved the change. Like with so many other cuts, you trumpet a “re-organisation” which you claim will save tax-payers money, but then you stymie it by taking the saving before the re-organisation has had a chance to succeed, like a business paying out its working capital in premature Dividends on the expectation of future profits.
We know the sort of measures which nudge demand down to a lower level of intervention:
- Home adaptations to prevent trips and falls.
- Reliable home care.
- Easily-accessed respite care.
- Good-quality available Day Care services
- Comprehensive advice and guidance services
- More Social Workers
- A vibrant and diverse voluntary sector
Every one of these you have cut, and cut again. Of all the cuts you have made, the cuts to the Voluntary Sector must be the most counter-productive, the most callous and the most contrary to stated Conservative Party Philosophy.
And if cuts to Adult Social Care budgets are callous, how much more callous are cuts to family interventions and family social workers and children’s centres services such as the Welfare Rights service. We warned you in stark language at last year’s budget that there would be children taken into care unnecessarily if you cut the Children’s Centres Welfare Rights service. It gives me absolutely no satisfaction to say “We told you so” – not primarily because that decision has cost this authority hundreds of thousands of pounds, but because it has destroyed some families that did not need to be destroyed.
We have a vision of a better Suffolk, a Suffolk where families get the advice and help they need to stay together, where vulnerable elderly people and people with learning difficulties are enabled to stay in their own homes or with their families for as long as possible. A Suffolk where walkers and cyclists of all ages can travel safely to work or to school or for leisure, where those who need to drive can travel on well-maintained roads, where those who need public transport can find it going where they want when they want it. A Suffolk where all our young people can access the education and training they need and grow to their full potential.
Will we achieve that? Can we ever be satisfied with what we have done? No! – there will never be a time when we can do everything we would want. But should we try, with the resources we have, to at least achieve some of it? Or should we leave £190 million in the bank?
Cuts or care. You decide.
Labour Leader, Sandy Martin