Minutes from the virtual Annual General Meeting of the APPG on Local Government

Minutes from the virtual Annual General Meeting of the APPG on Local Government
ALL-PARTY PARLIAMENTARY
GROUP ON LOCAL GOVERNMENT

Minutes from the virtual Annual General Meeting of the APPG on Local Government
Wednesday, 21st April 2021 via Zoom

Attendees

Parliamentarians

  • Chris Clarkson MP (2020 Group Chair and newly elected 2021 Group Chair) – Conservative
  • Rachel Hopkins MP (2020 Co-Vice-Chair for the Group and newly elected 2021 Vice-Chair for the Group) – Labour
  • Paul Holmes MP (newly elected 2021 Officer) – Conservative
  • Ben Everitt MP – Conservative
  • David Simmonds MP – Conservative
  • Dehenna Davison MP – Conservative
  • Jo Gideon MP – Conservative
  • Jack Shaw, Office of Kate Hollern MP – Labour
  • Stuart Whittingham, Office of Mick Whitley MP – Labour

Apologies: James Daly MP (newly elected 2021 Group Treasurer – Conservative), Baroness Margaret Eaton (2020 Group Secretary and newly elected 2021 Group Secretary – Conservative).

External stakeholders

  • Cllr Abi Brown, Stoke-on-Trent City Council
  • Cllr Jo Farrell, Blackpool Council
  • Cllr Lynn Williams, Blackpool Council
  • Nikki Knowles, Bristol City Council
  • Pat Graham, Copeland Borough Council
  • Cllr Graham Gooch, Lancashire County Council
  • Colin Ansell, Newham Council
  • Alice Palombo, Macmillan Cancer Support
  • Jonathan Carr-West, Local Government Information Unit (Group Secretariat)
  • Jen Pufky, Local Government Information Unit (Group Secretariat)
  • Janet Sillett, Local Government Information Unit (Group Secretariat)
  • Ingrid Koehler, Local Government Information Unit (Group Secretariat)
  • Alice Buszard, Local Government Information Unit (Group Secretariat, minutes)

Introduction

The Chair welcomed attendees to the Annual General Meeting for the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Local Government and verified that the meeting was quorate. The Chair thanked the Secretariat for organising the meeting and gave a brief overview to establish the purpose of the Group, which is to bring together interested members of the House of Commons and the House of Lords to discuss and find solutions to issues that are affecting local government.

Election of APPG Officers

Voting took place to elect members to officer positions for the APPG. The Chair set out the rules for the vote. Only MPs and Peers could vote and be elected to the APPG, and at least four officers are required. This includes at least two MPs, one of whom must hold the position of Chair and Registered Contact, and with one MP from the governing party, and another from the main opposition party.

Chris Clarkson MP nominated himself to be re-elected as Chair and Registered Contact, which was seconded by Dehenna Davison MP, Ben Everitt MP and Paul Holmes MP. No other attendees wished to put themselves forward for the position of Chair and Registered Contact. Chris Clarkson MP was duly re-elected.

Rachel Hopkins MP nominated herself for the position of Vice-Chair which was seconded by the Chair. No other names were put forward for this position and she was re-elected as Vice-Chair.

Baroness Eaton gave her apologies for the AGM but wanted to put herself forward for the position of Secretary prior to the meeting. The Chair seconded the nomination and Baroness Eaton was re-elected as Secretary.

James Daly MP was unable to attend the AGM but had let the Chair and the Secretariat know that he wished to nominate himself for the position of Treasurer. This nomination was seconded by both the Chair and the Vice-Chair and James Daly MP was voted to be Treasurer.

The Chair asked if there were any further nominations. Paul Holmes MP put himself forward for an officer position which was seconded by the Chair, and he was elected as an Officer.

No other nominations were announced. The Secretariat registered the election results and checked that the APPG was quorate. The Chair subsequently drew the election of officers to a close.

Income and Expenditure

The Group established that no income and expenditure statements would need to be submitted as it had not received £12,500 in money or in kind from outside Parliament for the reporting year of 2020/21.

Summary of the discussion on the impact of Covid-19 on social care

Jonathan Carr-West, Chief Executive of the Local Government Information Unit, was invited by the Chair to give a brief overview of the current state of social care, and how this has affected local councils. He noted the frustration for councils still waiting for the Social Care Green Paper which had been announced in the 2017 Budget, and outlined the issue that chronic underfunding has caused. The Select Committee’s inquiry into the state of social care painted a bleak picture of the sector, particularly around the workforce and the market. Even before the pandemic, the social care system was in crisis and this has been exacerbated by coronavirus. He also commented on the political context around social care, as many governments have tried to implement reform but to little success, for example with the Death Tax under Gordon Brown, or with the recommendations from the Dilnot Commission.

Local government has made clear that social care is the largest long-term funding pressure, but the Health and Care White Paper did not address this issue. Ultimately, the sector and the Government need to agree on what the right balance is for personal versus state funding of the system, ensuring that it is equitable while supporting the market. Questions also need to be answered around improvement of the care workforce, preventative care and structural problems such as better collaboration between the health and care sectors. Though the White Paper set out ambitions for better integration between these two services, it did not provide ideas for how to achieve this partnership. Consequently, Covid-19 has worsened pre-existing problems.

The Chair thanked Jonathan Carr-West for his words and invited the Vice-Chair to speak on the topic. The Vice-Chair stressed the importance of remembering that social care does not just tackle one aspect of ill-health or disability. There are many different facets that may require a unique response.

The Chair then opened the meeting up to all attendees to discuss the impact that Covid-19 has had on social care. Those in attendance agreed that a less disparate approach was needed to fix the cracks in the system, along with more clarity about the future funding of social care.

One Council Leader stated that social care can broadly be divided into three groups in their council, leaving aside children’s social care: adults with learning disabilities, older care, and health and wellbeing. Fundamentally, the issues that have arisen are due to the lack of funding. Councillors have not been elected to bring in money for their council, but rather to find ways of creating a surplus and using this to fund services. Otherwise, services must be financed through assets or by top-slicing revenue funding. The Leader is frequently in contact with Robert Jenrick MP, Secretary of State for Local Government, but hears little from Matt Hancock MP, Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, highlighting the lack of joined-up thinking in Government. They then questioned what the future of Health and Wellbeing Boards may look like, particularly given the content of the Health and Social Care White Paper.

One MP was in accordance with many of the Leader’s points, arguing that the Government needs to be aware of the reach of local authorities’ work. Planning and regeneration fees are not used to drive profit, but rather to subsidise social care and ensure it remains with the council. The vast majority of residents do not see an increase in Council Tax as a benefit to them as they may not require social care services. Moreover, social care precepts may not raise the same amount of money to fund the service throughout the whole country, and this needs to be made explicit to both residents and the Government.

One councillor noted that councils should be trusted to know what’s best for their communities. This was especially apparent during the first lockdown when guidance from the Government was limited. Their council also pays the Living Wage and Sick Pay, but they cannot force care providers to do the same. Many care providers are family-owned and at risk financially, meaning that there is a growing concern about how to manage staff capacity and the shift between services. Care workers have a much bigger remit than is realised, for example in medication provision, yet their work is viewed unfavourably by many.

Another councillor claimed that the authority had been fortunate as their finances had been squared off and that they had had few issues acquiring money or equipment during the initial stages of the outbreak. However, the council still struggled with certainty for when the funding would arrive, and how much it would be, suggesting that long-term clarity would be welcomed. The councillor agreed that working from Council Tax percentages was not helpful, nor was the seemingly duplicated responsibilities of Health and Wellbeing Boards that were set out in the Health and Care White Paper. Mental health had been effectively ignored, and though further integration of health and social care had been called for, there was little indication around how this could be achieved – councils need to know what they will be given before planning how they can integrate services.

Similarly, one senior officer expressed their wish for better clarity around reform and integration. On a local level, it would be useful to know where the thinking lies, particularly as innovative schemes such as wellbeing villages have been proposed, but councils are not financially secure enough to take risks. They also stated that the council is interested in tackling the isolation element of social care, as prevention can avoid costs and enrich lives.

A representative for an MP agreed with many of the points made about social care precepts – the properties that fall under their council’s authority area are typically placed in Council Tax Bands A, B or C, meaning that increases to rates would accrue very little. Both the funding issues for social care and the Fair Funding Formula need to be addressed, as deprivation can drive demand.

One Council Leader remarked that 79 per cent of the authority’s budget is spent on social care, a level that is significantly more than that of the rest of the country. Council Tax is regressive, as properties in Band D in this local authority area are taxed higher than properties that fall under the same band in a much wealthier local authority area. The council has tried to introduce children’s residential placements through the planning system, however, this requires a large amount of funding.

The Chair outlined his belief that Council Tax is regressive, noting that we need more local decision-making and to take a ‘root, not tree’, approach.

One MP noted how struck they had been by the duplications in the Health and Care White Paper, outlining how multiple agencies having the same responsibilities leads to inefficiency and blockages due to people working to different agendas. This can harm the wellbeing of local residents and is financially irresponsible.

Close

The Chair thanked participants for attending the AGM before closing the meeting.