This morning, at the County Councils Network conference in Oxfordshire, the keynote speaker was John Healey MP, Local Government Minister. His speech majored on the impact of the ‘global crisis’ affecting finance and credit. Proudly, he painted a picture of calm and serenity, with Government at the helm, which would steer safely through the stormy waters. It should be Counties who show other councils the way (although I wonder what he says to an audience of Districts or Metropolitan authorities?).
Government debt was apparently in good shape; “It was 44% of GDP in 1997, now it was just 37%, and even after the bailout of Northern Rock it’s still only 43%” – though why we couldn’t have kept it at 37% and not gone through the Northern Rock fiasco defeated some of us.
He deftly sailed through a volley of questions – how on local government pensions, our Employers’ Contributions were set to rise from a difficult 19% to an unaffordable 27%; whether in the light of Haringay and Baby P, the Government would finally begin to fund social care sensibly; and whether Government could simplify funding for Districts by channelling their settlement through County authorities.
His answer to the last questions was “we have – they’re now called Unitaries” and so the session ended, with no one much the wiser, second-guessing the innuendo and inference.
Typical Ministerial performance nowadays really…