William Eichler 19 May 2017

What do the General Election manifestos mean for local government?

In the build up to the General Election, the major political parties have been unveiling their pledges as manifestos are published for the critical gaze of the voting public.

So, what have they promised the local government sector?

Social and health care — two crucially important areas for councils and their residents — are front and centre.

The Conservatives have created the largest splash with their promise that people with more than £100,000 in assets will have to pay for their own care out of the value of their home rather than rely on councils.

This is an increase on the current cap of £23,500 per individual, although it should be emphasised it includes the value of property something that is currently excluded.

The PM did, however, stress that no one would have to sell their home to pay for care. The current freedom to defer payments for residential care would be extended to those receiving care at home so that ‘no-one will have to sell their home in their lifetime to pay for care’.

The Labour manifesto took a different tack. Jeremy Corbyn’s party promised to address the lack of funding for social care with an extra £8bn spread over the Parliament, including £1bn in the first year.

They also pledged to centralise social care, with their manifesto laying out plans for a National Care Service along the lines of the National Health Service.

‘The National Care Service will be built alongside the NHS, with a shared requirement for single commissioning, partnership arrangements, pooled budgets and joint working arrangements,’ the manifesto read.

‘We will build capacity to move quickly towards a joined-up service that will signpost users to all the appropriate services at the gateway through which they arrive.’

In their manifesto, Labour committed themselves to review the Government’s current plans for driving the integration of health and social care.

‘Labour will halt and review the NHS “Sustainability and Transformation Plans”,’ reads the manifesto, ‘which are looking at closing health services across England, and ask local people to participate in the redrawing of plans with a focus on patient need rather than available finances.’

Labour have also committed themselves to making Britain’s children the ‘healthiest in the world’ by fighting inequality, introducing a new Index of Child Health to measure progress against international standards, and by banning adverts promoting unhealthy food from being broadcast during primetime television.

They will also set up a new £250m Children’s Health Fund, a policy that will be paid for by ‘clamping down’ on management consultancy costs in the NHS.

The Liberal Democrats have announced they would invest an extra £6bn a year of ring-fenced cash in the NHS and social care system. This would be paid for by an immediate 1p rise on all rates of income tax.

They would also establish a cross-party health and care convention that would promote a sustainable and integrated health and care system, and an independent office of health and care funding to monitor health and care budgets.

‘The NHS was once the envy of the world and this plan is the first step in restoring it to where it should be,’ said the Lib Dem shadow secretary of state for health, Norman Lamb.

‘A penny on the pound to save the NHS is money well spent in our view.

‘Simply providing more money on its own is not enough and that’s why this is just the first step in our plan to protect health and care services long-term.”

‘We also need to do much more to keep people fit and healthy and out of hospital, and that is why this new funding will be targeted to those areas that have the greatest impact on patient care such as social care, general practice, mental health and public health.’

The Green Party has pledged to give mental health ‘parity of esteem’ with physical health and to roll out new school-based therapy to treat mental ill health earlier. They also say they will make sure everyone who needs psychological therapy receives it within 28 days of being referred.

In a General Election broadcast, the UK Independence Party (UKIP) have also laid down a number of pledges, including cutting immigration, which they claim places services such as the NHS under a lot of pressure, and redirecting foreign aid into the NHS.

The Scottish National Party (SNP) ‘policy base’ on their website also makes a number of commitments on health and social care. They want to ‘bring treatment closer to home’ and have committed to increase spending on primary care services to 11% of the frontline NHS budget.

They will also increase the Carer’s Allowance so that it is paid at the same level as Jobseekers' Allowance, a commitment that will benefit carers by £600 a year. And over the next five years, they will invest an additional £150m in mental health services.

The Welsh nationalist party, Plaid Cymru, also has a number of health and social care pledges such as a social care rescue plan, which will increase the role of community hospitals and ensure health and social care services are ‘seamlessly provided’. They are also offering a ‘carers’ contract’ to support carers.

On council finance, the Conservative manifesto said ‘high increases’ in council tax would continue to be subject to a referendum, business rates revaluations would be ‘conducted more frequently’ and the system would be reviewed to ‘make sure it is up to date for a world in which people increasingly shop online’.

The Conservatives said they would ‘continue to give local government greater control over the money they raise and address concerns about the fairness of current funding distributions’.

The document added the party would ‘consolidate’ its approach to devolution and introduce a ‘common framework’ that all authorities would operate within – and would ‘not support’ elected mayors for the rural counties.

The Labour Party have committed themselves to increasing funding to local authorities and the undertaking of a review of local government finance.

Launching Labour's manifesto, Mr Corbyn promised he would review ‘reforming council tax and business rates, and consider new options such as land value tax, to ensure local government has sustainable funding for the long term’.

Seeking to become the ‘party of devolution’, Labour has said it will hand back power to communities and devolve economic development powers ‘complete with the necessary funding’. They also pledged to create a ‘minister for England’ and to bring back the Government’s regional offices.

The Liberal Democrats say they will rejuvenate ‘democratic local government in England’ if they are elected on 8 June. They promise to ‘drastically reduce the powers of central Government ministers to interfere in democratically elected local government.’

They promise to remove the requirement to hold local referenda for council tax changes ‘ensuring that councillors are properly accountable for their decisions by introducing fair votes.’ They also committed to more financial devolution and to the creation of more neighbourhood, community and parish councils.

The Conservative manifesto promised a ‘new generation of fixed-term council housing linked to a new Right to Buy’ and vowed to eliminate rough sleeping in 10 years.

The Tory’s manifesto insisted the party, if elected, would ‘meet our 2015 commitment to deliver a million homes by the end of 2020 and we will deliver half a million more by the end of 2022.

‘We will help councils to build, but only those councils who will build high-quality, sustainable and integrated communities. We will enter into new council housing deals with ambitious, pro-development, local authorities to help them build more social housing.

‘In doing so, we will build new fixed-term social houses, which will be sold privately after 10 to 15 years with an automatic Right to Buy for tenants, the proceeds of which will be recycled into further homes.’

Labour, too, say they would build over a million new homes. ‘By the end of the next Parliament,’ read their manifesto, ‘we will be building at least 100,000 council and housing association homes a year for genuinely affordable rent or sale.’

This would be done partly through the establishment of a new Department for Housing, and by giving ‘councils new powers to build the homes local communities need.’

The Lib Dems have promised to outdo both Labour and the Conservatives on the housing front by committing themselves to the construction of 300,000 homes a year – almost double the current level. This will include half a million affordable, energy-efficient homes by the end of Parliament.

On education, the Conservative manifesto says the party will ‘go further’ with its education reforms. It says the Tories are commited to their programme of free schools and will build ‘at least’ 100 a year. They will also prohibit councils from creating any new places in schools that have been rated either ‘inadequate’ or ‘requires improvement’ by Ofsted.

The Labour manifesto claims the party will ‘not waste money’ on free schools or grammar schools and will instead invest £5bn in creating a democratically accountable and inclusive education system.

A commitment to increasing school funding was also made by the Liberal Democrats. They announced they would invest £6.9bn in schools and colleges over the next parliament, and would ensure no school loses out from the National Funding Formula.

The Green Party has also promised to reverse some of the Government’s core education policies. They have pledged to end the academies programme and bring existing academies back under local authority control.

Childcare also featured heavily in the manifestos. The Conservatives reiterated their commitment to delivering 30 hours of free childcare for three and four-year-olds for working parents. The SNP will follow suit saving, they say, saving families over £4,500 per child per year.

Labour promise to extend this to all two-year-olds, and move towards making some childcare available for one-year-olds, while extending maternity pay to 12 months.

The Green Party has sought to place the environment on the agenda. They pledged to end the monopoly of the Big Six energy companies by building democratic, locally owned alternatives.

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