Northern Lights:Ticking time bomb of social care just one big decision in the offing

I’m going to start with the Brexit word, but then promise not to talk about it. Whilst Brexit is everywhere, there is a lot of other “stuff” going on or ought to be going on.

Tuesday, 22nd January 2019, 4:22 pm
Updated Tuesday, 22nd January 2019, 4:24 pm
British Houses of Parliament

Some of this is long overdue, some of it is lurking in the wings, some of it is happening but not quite as we would like it. When Brexit is done and dusted, and one day it will be, we will also have

to live with the consequences of the other “stuff”. In other words let’s keep our eyes on everything at the moment and not just the headlines. 

Let’s start with social care. A discussion paper – a so called Green Paper – is massively overdue from Government. When it arrives it should talk about how we as a nation, and therefore we as Sheffield, will pay for these essential services. This is the ticking time bomb in every town, city and rural county in this country at the moment, so not only do we need a clear way forward but we also need it to be the right way forward. That’s definitely one to keep an eye on.

Of course you should not talk about social care without talking about the NHS, and we have recently had the new 10 year plan for our health services. There were a few welcome steps in the right direction, recognising that we cannot just keep on treating people who become ill – we need to give much more emphasis to keeping them well and happily cared for in their own homes. However, until we fix the funding for social care we will just put even more pressure on our colleagues in the NHS. So, that’s number two on my list.

Next is the Fair Funding Review. Experience tells me always to be a little worried of any national initiative that has “fair” in its title. Essentially this review, and it is live right now, is about how the government distributes its money amongst the local authorities of England. 

The debate is whether or not levels of deprivation should be a key basis upon where you provide the money. There is a real risk that this debate moves away from us. Now Sheffield is far from being amongst the most deprived places in the country, but a move away from taking account of it will hurt this city. London is equally worried about this so we are making common cause with them. The Fair Funding Review is definitely on my list and is flashing red.

Changing tack now, we need to make sure that the things that we have got don’t get lost or don’t get revisited. Transport is a key candidate. HS2 continues to get talked about and whilst I know it divides opinions a decision has been made that it is coming up the east side of the country as well as the west and a decision has been made that is coming to Sheffield. 

I personally have always felt that HS2 is an advantage to the nation and equally, if it goes to other places and not Sheffield then that will be to our distinct disadvantage. We need to be vigilant.

The same is true of the transport connections, mainly rail, across the Pennines – the east/west links. As with HS2, the right ambitions have been set, thanks in many respects to the insistent efforts of the senior political leaders of our council. Let’s make sure that in the dust and noise of the Brexit debates the ambitions are not lost sight of. 

Moving back from transport, we have also been told that austerity is over. We recently had a major presentation and debate at our full council earlier this month that was called “Austerity is Over?”. The question mark was deliberate as the jury is still out. What is clear is that the impact of seven years of reducing expenditure – so-called austerity – cannot be reversed either by a simple statement or one bit of extra money.

There are other big ticket items around. Our two universities await the outcome of the review of student fees. Our NHS colleagues will be picking through the more detailed announcements about their 10 year plan. Funding for children with special educational needs is a live and emotive topic. Our Police and Fire service colleagues will be in the midst of their own debates.

My main point is that as well as Brexit, and all its time-consuming debates, life goes on. Crucial decisions continue to be made. Some of these decisions are big ones in terms of their impact on Sheffield. In nearly all cases the decisions could go our way. However, they could not.

This column is accompanied by a picture of the Houses of Parliament. Put simply, decisions in that place called Westminster will affect this place called Sheffield. We need to be watching, we need to be vigilant and we need to be forceful. If we are not then we may emerge from the Brexit debates and find that it is too late.