Budget 2017 response: Government must harness power of communities to meet its goals
We were told not to expect any fireworks from the Chancellor’s first and final spring budget – and Philip Hammond delivered, with a sober statement aimed at steadying the ship before entering the choppy waters of Brexit negotiations.
Yet we are reaching the point where the Government’s welcome language of creating an “inclusive economy” and “building a country that works for everyone” needs to be matched by action in keeping with the scale of the ambition. Incremental tinkering with the tax system and short-term cash bailouts to prop up failing public services are not going to cut it in the long run.
Ultimately, to meet the Government’s goals, we need to push power as far out of Whitehall as possible, and give local communities the means to shape their own futures. Locality is campaigning for a new £1bn Community Asset Investment Plan, to do just this and give people a greater stake in their local areas as well as control of the activities and services that matter to them.
We are also launching a new high-level Commission on Localism, chaired by Lord Kerslake, to set out clear plans to put power closer to people. The Chancellor outlined further measures to “bolster regions”, but continues to talk about devolution exclusively as a project about regional economic growth and transport infrastructure. This is missing the wider potential of devolution to empower communities, reshape services and build better places from the ground up.
Similar ambition is needed on social care. The £2bn announced will be a welcome respite for many hard-pressed services. But it is crucial the forthcoming green paper on the long-term future of social care funding truly grasps the nettle of how to keep people out of hospital and living healthy, happy lives in their communities for as long as possible. We can only do this by supporting small local providers to win public service contracts and deliver well-rounded, person-centred services, as Locality’s Keep it Local campaign calls for.
If the government is serious about creating a shared society, it needs to do much more to support small charities and community organisations to thrive. While the Chancellor announced new funding packages aimed at businesses, he was silent on the role the voluntary and community sector plays in generating local growth and supporting local people. We will be continuing to work with our colleagues across the sector ensure that small charities receive the same tax benefits as small businesses, and to make the case that the Government’s ambitions can only be achieved by harnessing the power of enterprising communities across the country.