Thursday, 23 October 2014

Clean hands

From: Inside edge

In central government? Worried about the consequences of the spending review? Just wash and go with brand new Localism.

A clutch of equality impact assessments published by the DCLG today show how much it is using its flagship idea to play Pontius Pilate over the implications of the cuts.

The assessments cover spending decisions on Supporting People, Decent Homes, the Working Neighbourhoods Fund, Private Sector Renewal and the Local Enterprise Growth Initiative and justify the cuts on the basis that they are necessary to meet the coalition’s top priority of cutting the deficit.

More controverisally, and unlike the assessment on changes to housing benefit published two weeks ago by the DWP, each of them delegates responsibility for the impact of any cuts to local authorities. They will have to carry out their own equality impact assessments and, presumably, face any legal consequences.

On Supporting People, the assessment spells out a 3% reduction in national funding from £1,636m in 2010/11 to £1,590m in 2014/15.

And it points out that it ‘funds frontline support services to disadvantaged and vulnerable people’ and ‘is already un-ringfenced, and so spending decisions are made by individual councils’.

The good news, according to the DCLG, is that ‘as part of the Spending Review, councils will have greater freedom and flexibility to make local spending decisions according to local priorities – some councils may decide to spend more funding on Supporting People services’.  

Anyone involved in the sector, or even anyone who read last week’s Inside Housing, will find that incredible. As Emily Twinch revealed, far from prioritising Supporting People, councils around the country are raiding the budget to pay for other services. Nottinghamshire is looking at a cut of 67%, Cornwall 40%, Rochdale 30%. Providers report that the minimum cut being considered is 10%.

The assessment dryly notes: ‘If any changes to the Supporting People programme national budget cannot be met through councils making efficiencies and/or pooling resources, services for vulnerable people may have to be decommissioned, re-modelled or scaled back.  This would impact on those who currently receive a Supporting People service.’

It’s much the same story on the other programmes too.  

Funding for Private Sector Renewal has been discontinued altogether and the government believes that ‘owner-occupiers are primarily responsible for the upkeep of their own properties’.  

The assessment notes that in 2008 there were 1.2m vulnerable private sector households living in non-decent homes, 1.1m of whom were over 60. But because the government does not know how unringfenced renewal funding was spent previously it cannot know what the impacts will be of its removal.  

And here’s that argument again: ‘The increased freedoms and flexibilities being provided to local authorities as part of the Spending Review mean that they will have greater freedom to prioritise and allocate budgets to support public services in ways which meet the needs of local people and communities.  Therefore, it is feasible that local authorities spend more money on repairs to private sector housing, if it is deemed a real priority.’

The £1.5bn Working Neighbourhoods Fund will end in March 2011 but the DCLG argues this has to be seen in the context of decisions on spending in other areas.

‘We have made sure that no council will see their overall spending power decrease by more than 8.9 per cent in 2011-12 or 2012-13,’ says the assessment. ‘We have done this by making available a transition grant in those years.’

That of course ignores the emerging evidence that many of the most deprived areas covered by the Fund will see the most substantial reductions.

And the assessment refers to earlier evidence that half of people from ethnic minorities live in deprived areas and that levels of disability are also significantly higher than the national average.  

Instead, the new Work Programme will ‘provide greater freedom for suppliers to give people the support they need’ from Summer 2011 and localism will come to the rescue.  

‘The drivers of deprivation, economic decline and social exclusion are place-specific. The circumstances and challenges faced by deprived neighbourhoods in Lancashire are very different to those of the poorest London boroughs.  The challenges are therefore best understood and addressed locally. In addition, communities are strongest when everyone has a free and fair say in the decisions that affect them.’

Readers' comments (1)

  • Maybe the localism and buck passing doesn't even stop there. County councils may cut Supporting People but it's district council housing and social services, the health service and local voluntary organisations that will have to pick up the pieces.

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