I suppose that most people would regard the 2017 and last ever spring budget to be a little bland. It confirms the decisions already taken about indexation of tax reliefs and makes minimal changes to duty and the other usual issues. Unlike the autumn statement, however, it contained quite a lot relevant to local authorities.
There is no doubt that authorities are in severe budget difficulties. It is not only social care, the pressures on safeguarding for children are also immense and the consequences of the welfare benefit’s cap on homelessness is considerable in some places. A recent report showed that many of those now presenting themselves as homeless were public sector workers such as teachers and nurses who never expected to be in that position.
However, the key headline in the budget was social care. Importantly, there will be a green paper to put social care on a sustainable basis in the longer term. This will not be easy or straightforward as all attempts to date have been proved unacceptable to one group or another.
This budget however is intended to take the pressure off for the next three years. Although the headline figure was £2bn, it is in fact £2.4bn when you get to the detailed policy costing pages. Split £1.2bn in 17/18, £0.8bn in 18/19 and £0.4bn in 19/20.
Unusually, there is absolutely no detail anywhere in the published papers as to how this is to be allocated and how it will work. Budget papers do say: “It will ensure councils can take immediate action to fund care packages for more people, support social care providers and relieve pressure on the NHS locally.”
It adds that it is intended to build on the approach to the Better Care Fund. It also says: “Councils will need to work with NHS colleagues to consider how the funding can be best spent and to ensure best practice is implemented more consistently across the Country.” Fine words but we do need to see the detail in order to be sure how it is to be allocated and what objectives will have to be met. I assume the money will come to local authorities but it doesn’t actually say.
In the detail it would seem that there are no changes to local authority funding for the years 17/18 – 19/20.
The chancellor had to respond to the immense publicity campaign about the business rates revaluation and announced more than £300m for this. This will cost local authorities nothing as the reliefs given will be reimbursed but there will be quite a lot of work implementing the changes.
The three initiatives are a £1,000 discount for public houses with a rateable value up to £100,000, for one year only and estimated to cost £25m; giving local authorities funding to support discretionary relief for individual cases of hardship covering years up to 2021; support for small businesses losing small business rate relief to limit increases in bills. This is estimated to cost around £115m from 17/18 to 21/22.
With interesting timing I note the Valuation Office Agency put out a Press Release on outstanding appeals this week which shows 750 appeals outstanding from 2005.
There were also announcements about potholes, highways infrastructure including more Crossrail and HS3.
Considering the continuing theme of austerity it was not such a bad day for local government.