Blog - 31st January 2022

Jan 31st 2022, 21:20

Blog - 31st January 2022

In this blog I preview the government’s ‘Levelling Up’ white paper that I believe is inadequate for the task and the chronic challenges that are being faced in adult social care services.

This week we are expecting the government to publish its ‘Levelling Up’ White Paper but, as is becoming usual with government announcements, most of it has been leaked already.

Michael Gove, the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing & Communities said that the government’s plans will deliver:

“Kings Cross-style transformational regeneration projects across the country (to) spread opportunity more evenly and help to reverse the geographical inequalities which still exist in the UK”.

But will they?

To my mind, ‘levelling up’ should mean, not only narrowing the gap between standards of living in different regions and communities, but also empowering those regions and communities to forge their own destinies. By this definition the government’s proposals for ‘levelling up’ seem a rag bag of miscellaneous schemes, most of which have already been announced and which provide a small amount of resources to ‘left behind’ areas compared with the resources that the government has taken away from them over recent years.

Manchester - a city that should be 'levelled up'!

The centre piece of the white paper will be a scheme to regenerate ‘brownfield’ sites. There will be a new Brownfield Fund of £1.5billion that will support schemes to develop brownfield land in twenty towns. However, this is not new money as it is part of the £1.8billion budget announced in the spending review of 2020 to bring 1,500 acres of brownfield land into use.

Sheffield and Wolverhampton have been named as the first towns to get funding from the brownfield fund to create ‘developments combining housing, leisure, and business in sustainable, walkable, beautiful new neighbourhoods’. Also as part of a wider £120million brownfield funding package, £28million will be allocated to the West Midlands Combined Authority and £13million to the South Yorkshire Combined Authority, to fund ‘the projects most needed to support local levelling up ambitions’. The government will launch a £1.5billion Levelling Up Home Building Fund that will provide loans to small and medium-sized builders and developers to deliver 42,000 homes, mostly outside London and the South East. These programmes will be managed by Homes England, that will be ‘refocused and tasked to support the levelling up agenda’.

The government is proposing ‘county deals’ that are an extension of the existing practice of funding development outside London by inviting local authorities to take part in ‘beauty contests’ where the successful councils receive handouts from government with strings attached. This is nothing to do with empowering communities and everything to do with making them dependent on central government. The Local Government Chronicle reports that the white paper will contain a ‘devolution framework’ for those areas to discuss with officials what they want; this will set out what powers local areas will get in return for agreeing to fulfil certain criteria. There is an expectation that those areas with directly elected Mayors will get more generous deals.

The Jorvik Viking Festival - part of the culture of the North!

The government thinks it should do something to revive culture in the North and Midlands. The spending review had already allocated £850million for this purpose and the Department for Culture, Media & Sport intends to identify a hundred worthy recipients for these resources. Michael Gove has said that:

“(Whitehall) will make sure that it’s the values of working people, not just the preferences of Primrose Hill, that drive how taxpayers’ money is spent on culture."

The Local Government Chronicle reports that the planning white paper reforms that proved controversial even among government supporters may be included in the levelling up white paper. I wrote a briefing paper on the planning white paper and its implications for housing when it was published in August 2020. To view or download a copy of my briefing paper, please click here.

The government plans to rewrite the Treasury Green Book and Procurement rules to reduce the requirement to procure public contracts through open competition.

The white paper is also expected to include several changes to the private rented sector, including a national register for private landlords from which ‘rogue’ landlords will be ejected. Private landlords will also be required by law to bring their properties up to a set of national standards and tenants will be given a new right to redress for complaints about their homes. These measures are to be welcomed but councils and the regulator will need enough resources to enforce them.

Last week one of my local newspapers, the News & Star, reported that adult social care services in Cumbria are facing ‘chronic challenges’. I am sure that this reflects challenges that are being faced by other councils also.


Cumbria House in Carlisle where Cumbria County Council is based

Councillor Patricia Bell (Liberal Democrat, Penrith East), Cabinet Member for Health and Care Services, told Cumbria County Council’s cabinet that:

"I want to bring my cabinet colleagues up to date with how things are in adult social care. There are two pieces of good news, the staff who caught the Omicron variant are beginning to return to work after having to self-isolate and by next week, most day care services reopened after early lockdowns and supported living services will be back on a more even keel. The recruitment campaign ‘Proud to Care Cumbria’ is making a difference and it's an important part of the way forward."

"When and if all the staff come back there are still hundreds of vacancies across the care sector to fill and we are still carrying social care and occupational therapy vacancies. Recovery is not really an appropriate word. There are 4,000 hours of unmet need and remember, there was a problem with delivering the hours of care needed even before the pandemic. Unmet care means increased pressure on families to step in to help."

Cllr Bell said that the sector is struggling to discharge people from hospital into care to free up beds, because there is not enough capacity for them in the care sector.

"Why? Because of the fragility of the social care sector and the demand is simply outstripping capacity, the situation is chronic.

"But amongst all of this, I do want to reassure colleagues that when our residents need and ask for an adult social care service, every effort is made to work with family, friends, partners and the third sector to keep people as safe as possible."

She thanked workers for their efforts but told members they are 'firefighting on a daily basis'.

I am holding several webinars on matters relevant to public services including local government and housing. For further information, please click here.

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