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Eric Pickles

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From: The Socialist issue 663, 23 March 2011: For a 24-hour public sector general strike

Search site for keywords: Eric Pickles - Public services - Disabled - Council - Local government

Pickles wages war on services

By a Unison member

Tory communities secretary Eric Pickles has declared war on what he calls councils' 'barmy rules and regulations' by conducting a 'review' of the 1,294 statutory duties placed on local authorities.

Most of these arise from Acts of Parliament and cover areas such as housing, social care, fire and rescue, town planning, local democracy and finance, environmental health and so on.

Pickles knows that removing many of these statutory duties is a prerequisite for the mass closure or privatisation of council services. Closure would leave most local authorities with a few hundred staff carrying out commissioning activities or monitoring the much reduced statutory duties that remain.

The Tory/Liberal coalition is already preparing the ground for this with their 'Big Society' Decentralisation and Localism Bill that will introduce a general power of competence. The Bill is already at the report stage in the House of Commons. Local authorities will be able to act in any way they see fit provided it falls within the law. For example, community groups assuming control of services that would otherwise close, the merger of essential services across council boundaries and alternative ways of funding local government such as invest-to-save bonds.

How far Pickles, Clegg and Cameron could go is illustrated by the inclusion of 37 adult social care duties that support disabled people and family carers in the Bill. Particularly the duty under section 2 of the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970 (CSDPA) to provide services to disabled people in order to meet their needs.

Although this duty has been significantly weakened by central government underfunding of councils over 30 years, and House of Lords judgements which allow councils to consider their financial position, it is still the foundation stone for the social services relied on by hundreds of thousands.

The Labour peer Alf Morris who wrote the CSDPA has promised to fight 'tooth and nail' to save this duty. But without mass pressure he is unlikely to find much of an echo in his own party.

It was New Labour that introduced the 2003 Fair Access to Care Services policy with differing levels of eligibility which has just been used by Birmingham council to justify ending services to 4,100 disabled and older people.

And Gordon Brown's government supported a Law Commission review that has now recommended a single law for adult social care that would replace the already weakened duty in the CSDPA with a much weaker 'statement of principles'.

Unless Pickles's war on councils is stopped, local government will change beyond all recognition, and disabled and older people, their families and millions of others will face a very bleak future.

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