Articles

Unintended Consequences

Politics is, or should be, about achieving what is possible and making (informed) choices. Policies that appear at first glance to be non-controversial can often be anything but once fully understood.

The Children’s Act is one example. The Act was intended to increase parental influence over the assistance given to children with High Needs. This is a motherhood and apple pie policy, that no one is going to be against.

Until it becomes apparent that the consequences are to drive a significant number of councils into even more dire financial problems than they have had after nine years of austerity .

The legislation has brought more children into the system, in addition to the growing number resulting from population increasing. Given the choice of care packages, what parent would not select the one that provides most support, even if the child could manage with less.

So surprise, the cost of support has shot up nationally. Councils that have not unreasonably sought to balance care with cost have been taken to court and lost judicial reviews, meaning more cost and leaving high cost packages in place. There is some extra funding to allow the Government to make the claim it is dealing with the problem, but it is nowhere near enough.

None of this would matter if the Government had respected the principle that if central government creates extra responsibilities for local government the funding it provides should be adjusted accordingly. This was known as the New Burdens rule, and was introduced by the coalition government in 2010.

However, this only applies where there is a direct link. The element of parental choice complicates this as Government will argue that they have not caused the costs to increase, it is the parents.

All this may be of secondary importance if Councils had a way of raising sufficient revenue each year to meet the additional costs. Guess what, they don’t. The capping of increase in Council by central government nine years of budget reductions and demographic changes all make the position harder to deal with.

The law allows administrative decisions to be subject to Judicial review. Nothing unreasonable about that. So should a council not satisfy a parents wishes, the matter can go to court. Again wholly reasonable. Should the court find in the parent’s favour, the council will need to provide a higher standard of care, and cost is not a consideration. To add to the budget pressure, precedents are set and similar cases have to be treated in the same way. So costs go up further. Councils across the country therefore face increasing costs as an unintended consequence of a policy change, on a spiralling scale into the millions.

There is no way out short of government recognition that the change in legislation has resulted in the additional cost and that this needs funding. Ten years of austerity have squeezed out efficiency savings, councils cannot increase council tax – so this has to fall back to Government as they instituted the legislation that caused the financial shortfall.

Do you think this is going to happen anytime soon?

Mike Lucas RIP

Sad to hear of the death of former Elm Park Labour Councillor Mike Lucas. Mike was a Councillor from 1986-1994.

Mike had a massive heart attack during the 1990 election campaign and it was touch and go for a while. Alan Williams tells the story of arriving early in the morning on election day and seeing no one around, fearing the worst

Mike survived, and was nominated as chair of Social Services in the minority administration that followed…however he never assumed this role for a variety of reasons. He did not stand in 1994, and was a bit disillusioned with Labour politics.

He had great integrity, and when we made a error in an election leaflet naming him as current Chair of Benhurst school governors rather than former Chair, we manually wrote in the correct title to 4,500 leaflets.

He was Chair of Governors at Abbs Cross until 1992 resigning when the school became Grant Maintained.

Mike had been a social worker for Newham and later Essex County Council and helped out at Community Links, the main Charity in Canning Town.

He was a loss to the Labour Party, and a genuinely decent man.

Condolences to his wife June, and Joanne, Kevin David and his grandchildren RIP.

Jean Horan RIP

Jean Horan was a most loyal member of the Hornchurch Labour Party and l well recall her enthusiasm in the Greater London Council election of May 1981 that resulted in my election to County Hall. She always enjoyed her visits to the building and once met Ken Livingstone!
She represented Hylands ward on the Hornchurch General Committee for some years. I will never forget her determination to forcefully put forward her opinions but in a cheerful and friendly manner. The Labour Party would have been much happier and successful in the 1980s had there been more members the likes of Jean Horan.

Alan Williams
GLC Member for Havering Hornchurch 1981-1986. Parliamentary candidate 1983 and 1987.