The new Prime Minister has recently made two major announcements – the first was the plan to recruit an extra 20,000 police officers, and, more recently, a £1.8bn injection for the NHS in England, with Wales set to receive £110m under the Barnett consequential. Whilst both announcements are certainly welcome, it is worth remembering firstly that the recruitment of extra police officers will only serve to take the total number of officers to the levels seen before 2010; and secondly, that the funding for health doesn’t allocate a single extra penny to social care.
With an annual growing demand caused by an increasingly aging population, social care is almost at the point of crisis across the United Kingdom and it is imperative that the UK Government recognises this through the provision of extra funding. Almost a decade of austerity and public sector cuts has had a phenomenal impact on the ability of Local Authorities across the United Kingdom to provide services and, despite the harshness of the cuts easing somewhat over the last two financial years, the settlements have also done precious little to address the huge real-terms deficits that have been opened up and continued to grow.
I have previously written on the importance of the UK Government conducting a clear three-year Spending Review, although the ongoing Brexit and political uncertainty indicates that this will not now be carried out. A comprehensive Review would have allowed Local Authorities to plan strategically for the forthcoming financial years and enabled us to account for increasing inflationary pressures on our core services - like social care and education, which is another area that has seen significant demand-based pressures further increase the strain on Local Government.
To compensate for these pressures, many Authorities have had to raise their Council Tax by as much as 10% over recent years, placing a burden on residents. This has been a situation that we have managed to avoid in Rhondda Cynon Taf, and for this financial year, we actually set the lowest increase in Wales. This comes off the back of the second lowest national increase in 2018/19 and the lowest ever local increases in the preceding two financial years. It is always our intention to protect residents from austerity wherever possible and our goal in setting council tax levels will be to remain around the 3% level as we feel that passing a higher burden to Council Tax payers is both unfair and unsustainable.
I would therefore hope that we can expect and look forward to further funding announcements from the UK Government to finally begin to deliver on their claim that austerity is over, and to recognise the calls from Local Government Leaders from across the UK in giving relief to the much-valued services we provide that desperately require additional resources.