Tag Archives: Alastair Darling

Alastair Darling to make budget cuts public

For months now, talks of budget cuts have been rife among council departments, especially social care. Many councils are already tightening their belts in anticipation of big cuts in 2011, when the next comprehensive spending review is scheduled for.

However, all the talk has thus far been based on guesswork. At the National Commissioning Conference in June, there was talk of public sector cuts of up to 10%, which was met with sage nods rather than gasps of shock, but it was emphasised that this was only a guess.

Meanwhile, the Institute of Fiscal Studies says that total departmental spending will have to fall by 3.2 % a year for 3 years if the government’s target of halving the budget deficit within 4 years is to be met.

The only certainties given by the government so far are that police, education and health budgets will be protected. There is no such guarantee for social care, and the lack of new money made available – thus far – to help drive the recommendations in the recent Social Care Task Force report seem to indicate the prevailing wind.

However, the guesswork is set to end, according to the Guardian. It carries a report saying that Chancellor Alastair Darling has committed to publish more internal estimates about range of departmental spending cuts the Treasury expects to make in the next 3-4 years after a grilling from the Treasury select committee yesterday. This may extend to being more open with the public about spending assumptions for the years post 2010-11 as well.

Anything that gives people – inside local councils and outside – a clearer picture of what is, or will be, happening is to be welcomed. People are more accepting of cuts when they are given the facts of why it is happening, rather than just being told that it is.

Everyone knows that cuts are coming, but knowing how much will be an advantage. It can inform public debate and ensure councils have a better idea of just how swingeing the cuts will be.

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Pre-budget report pleases few in social care

If ever there was a pre-budget report that was going to be unpopular, it was this one. Chancellor Alastair Darling knew it and has pretty much admitted it too. Unfortunately for him, it seems he was right; finding anyone with much positive to say about it is tricky at best.

From a social care point of view, the PBR seems to have been attacked from all sides. While it is generally accepted that cuts to the public sector are necessary if the country is to dig itself out of the financial hole it is in, the size of these cuts is causing consernation.

For example, the drive to keep older people in their own homes and out of residential care by using preventative measures continues. While the government thinks £250 million can be saved this way, ADASS’ John Jackson has slammed these proposals as “naïve”. He says that most councils are already planning cuts of 4% in this area and to make more, without new initiatives designed to help local government or promote closer working and better resource utilisation between the NHS and local government, is unrealistic.

Elsewhere, the announcement of a cap of 1% on pay increases for public sector workers from 2011-13 has been met with dismay. With National Insurance set to go up by 1% in 2011 too, add in inflation – expected to rise to 3% next year – and that’s a pay cut for millions. However, many councils would have struggled to find money for pay increases in any case.

But as BASW’s chief executive Hilton Dawson has pointed out, this seems to fly in the face of the Social Work Task Force report’s recent recommendations on career structure and pay grades for social workers. He called it a “slap in the face for the profession”.

Public sector unions have also been critical of the plans to cap state contributions to local government employee pensions by 2012.

So, while the public sector is unhappy, is the private sector more welcoming? Err, no. The English Community Care Association, the representative body for the independent care sector, has also slammed the PBR. Chief executive Martin Green said that the; “report signals that the government is intent on protecting the statutory services at the expense of independent provision and putting dogma before need”.

But this criticism has come without anyone really knowing what the alternative is; the Conservatives have focused mainly on criticising Labour’s plans, rather than promoting their own. Ditto the Liberals.

Certain details have previously emerged – such as the Tories’ plans to make deep cuts quickly and freeze social work pay for a year – but nothing in the same detail as Labour.

Only when the other parties outline their plans in the same detail will everyone get a true sense of what may be to come for the social care sector and the country more widely on the other side of the general election.

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