Peers champion ‘graph of doom’ prediction in Lords debate

Copied from Local Government Chronicle
3 December, 2012 | By Keith Cooper

The government’s effort to discredit local government predictions of a looming social care funding crisis have failed to convince Labour and Liberal Democrat members of the House of Lords.

Peers debating the future of social care in the upper chamber this week pointed repeatedly to the now-famous “Barnet Graph of Doom” which shows that council budgets could soon be eaten up entirely by an inexorable increase in adult social care.

Senior civil servants dispatched to the Communities and Local Government had this month dismissed this prediction as overly ‘apocalyptic’ and too ‘pessimistic’.

But Baroness Barker (Lib Dem) told peers it was “understandable that people talk in apocalyptic terms about social care”.

“The Barnet graph of doom says it all. I have to say that the LGA laid it on by doing exactly what I would have done in the circumstances, which is to pick the very worst case.”

Lord Lipsey (Lab) also pointed to the north London borough’s graphic portrayal of the alleged impending social care crisis. “[The Barnet Graph of Doom] shows what the council expects to spend on services and, on another line, what it expects to be allowed to spend in total.

“By 2030, spending on social services alone, the bulk of that on old people, exceeds the total budget,” he added. “Either no bins will be emptied in Barnet…there will be no libraries or parks- no town hall even- or there will be further big cuts for old people.”

Lord Warner (Lab), a member of the Dilnot commission, agreed with Lord Lipsey’s characterisation of social care funding. “This will mean that big cities in particular lose their civic services around arts, leisure, and other things which make for a civilised society as their authorities concentrate on social care and child protection.”

Earle Howe (Con), parlimentary under-secretary of state Department of Health, challenged the “story of cuts” portrayed by his fellow peers.

“We remain firmly of the view that the funding we have provided is enough to allow authorities to maintain access to services and to provide good-quality care. Independent research from the King’s Fund corroborates this.”

“This is not the story of cuts as some critics have made out, and there is only limited evidence of the impact on services or on users.”

Baroness Pitkeathley (Lab) and vice president of Carers UK, who opened the debat sais she found it hard to recognise “the picture of local services” painted by Lord Howe.

Be patient, we’ll be gone soon enough

Those taxpayers who think councillors are a waste of their council tax and should be done away with, just need to be patient for a few more years, if the local government press is to be believed.

Apparently, the bill for adult social care will increase at such a rate, whilst local government funding will be reduced at a similar rate, that there will no money left to do anything else. It’s estimated that the adult care bill will absorb 90% of the available funding, with the remainder being used to empty the bins. If this forecast is accurate, then I think there will be little need for elected members in whatever remains of local government.

As well as helping to formulate policy for the wide range of services councils currently provide, councillors also set the tax rate that partly pays for these services. Just as importantly, councillors help local taxpayers deal with the effects of those policies, especially when they don’t work as advertised, or even don’t work at all. It therefore follows, that by starving local government of funding, apart from those needed for adult care and emptying the bins, elected members will have little or no policies to formulate and very few issues to help taxpayers with. No policies = no problems = problem solved.

Central government will be able to keep the masses distracted by continuing to promote elected mayors, so there’s something local for them to vote for every few years. Local democratic energies will be absorbed by the outcomes of localism. Local people will need to spend their time running the services they value and that used to be run by councils. This may ultimately lead to the creation of a group of community leaders, trusted by the public to steward these services and charged with making the best use of their communities hard earned money. Indeed, they may even be called councillors.