Last Monday was the second reading of the Finance Bill, one of several pieces of legislation which come about as a result of a Budget. This was Parliament’s opportunity to make changes to planned expenditure on anything that the Budget got wrong.
Labour proposed a simple amendment: instead of cutting the Bank Levy and in the process handing major banks £5bn, why not retain the levy and use the money to make up the £2bn shortfall in children’s services?
Local authorities have faced the harshest central government cuts of any public service, yet while the funding problems in adult social care and schools have been well-publicised, the crisis in children’s services has not yet caught the public’s attention. Both the number of serious child protection cases and the number of children subject to child protection plans has doubled while the Conservatives have been in Government, with 500 new cases per day. It’s hard to imagine that this is unconnected to the 55% cut in central government funding for children’s services which occurred over the same period.
Let’s be clear: the purpose of children’s services at its most basic is to keep children safe, at their best they help troubled families to heal and thrive. The more constrained their funding, the more serious cases have to become to trigger action, the greater the extent of family breakdown, the more children at risk.
It doesn’t have to be this way, if the Government chose to put the money back into children’s services they could do so without any additional borrowing simply by reversing their tax cut for the banks, there would be plenty of money to spare.
Unfortunately the Tories rejected the amendment. Until Crawley regains a real voice in Parliament, it seems inevitable that local services are doomed to suffer, whatever the consequences.