Local government is far better at spending control than departments in Whitehall and the centre knows its, says Professor Tony Travers
Theresa May has started 2018 with a reshuffle of her cabinet. The reshuffle did not go according to plan, notably because some senior figures refused to be moved.
Jeremy Hunt stayed as health secretary, while Justine Greening resigned when told she was being offered work and pensions instead of the education department. David Gauke became the sixth justice secretary since 2010. Greg Clark remained at business, despite a reported desire on the prime minister’s part to replace him with Mr Hunt.
Having kept his position, the health secretary had “and social care” added to his job title. Whether this change signals a more radical shift of policy remains to be seen. Back in the 2010 spending review, the government transferred what was called the “personal social services grant” into the formula grant. Thereafter, councils have been responsible for determining children’s and adults’ funding levels.
The reshuffle will not affect the quality of government
It is possible the DH will seek to regain control of part – or all – of social care spending. The adult care precept already involves a degree of ringfencing of local taxation.
But the Treasury is likely to resist any suggestions of a transfer of responsibility: if councils’ funding on social care had increased at the rate of NHS spending in the years from 2009-10 to 2017-18, it would be £2.5bn higher than it is today. Local government is far better at spending control than Whitehall.
Sajid Javid has had “housing” added to his title, though his department will now be the “Ministry” of Housing, Communities and Local Government. We are now almost back to the pre-1970 title of Ministry of Housing and Local Government. As with the change in title at the DHSC, only time will tell if variations in nomenclature lead to any perceptible effect on policy.
Brandon Lewis, part of Sir Eric Pickles’ regime at the DCLG, has been made Conservative chairman. He will now find himself having to charm the party’s remaining activist base, including councillors who are the most resilient part of a small band of members.
The reshuffle will not affect the quality of government. Only stable and effective policymaking and delivery would do that.
Professor Tony Travers is director of the Greater London group at London School of Economics. This article first appeared on lgcplus.com.