This month saw Conservative members of Parliament representing shires across England threatening rebellion. The rebels were deterred. Though some are saying they were victorious.
The group, not belonging to any other faction, threatened to vote against the local government finance settlement unless the Chancellor offers an emergency cash injection for social care.
The rebel contingent was said to number at least six and perhaps fifteen MPs. Not exactly an army, but given the Conservative minority, small groups like these can make enough of a tilt to inflict a humiliating defeat on the prime minister and her government.
Spearheading the move was Daniel Kawczynski, MP for Shrewsbury and Atcham in Shropshire. Commenting, Mr Kawczynski said, “I hope they can find additional money for this settlement. I think they have had representations from 20-30 MPs and half a dozen at least are serious about rebelling.”
Mr. Kawczynski has been an MP since 2005 and this would be his first rebellion against the conservative government.
Speaking to Sky News he said, “The councils have now cut back on inefficiencies right down to the bone. We have stood aside and watched as they have made efficiencies.
“But now they are gnawing away at the bone and they cannot meet the huge running costs of social care services.
“Shropshire, for example, is one of the most popular destinations to retire to and so we have a lot more elderly people.
“With that comes huge additional costs. But the Government has not taken that into consideration and that’s why we will be voting against the legislation.”
Following national coverage of the story Mr Kawczynski showed no signs of backing down, tweeting that “Shropshire council is facing a black hole of £10 million to pay for rising costs of Adult Social Care. I cannot support proposed settlement until government finds more money to help my council meet these costs.”
As the story developed, Mr Kawczynski and MPs serving other Shropshire constituencies met with the Chancellor Phillip Hammond and Sajid Javid. As Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, Mr Javid retains some responsibility for social care funding despite the incorporation of the policy area into the ice cold bosom of Jeremy Hunt and his rebranded Department for Health and Social Care.
The meeting appeared to have done the job. The rebellion eventually ended peacefully as Mr. Kawczynski and his fellow rebels voted in favour of the local government finance bill.
However, the government appears to have made concessions. Sayid Javid has announced an additional £150m in funding for social care, to be allocated to councils based on “their relative needs”. How exactly “relative needs” are defined has not been made clear, but our rebel MP, Mr. Kawczynski said that he understands that Shropshire will receive a little over £2m.
This episode echoes spring of last year, when David Hodge – the leader of Surrey County Council – and other conservative colleagues led a rebellion in the face of continuing cuts to local authority budgets. Social care was a rallying call then as it is now.
Mr Hodge had threatened to conduct a local referendum to raise council tax by 15% and blame the government for it. He was then secretly recorded telling his conservative colleagues that a ‘gentlemen’s agreement’ had been reached during conversations with Sayid Javid and the Chancellor, Phillip Hammond.
The gaffe intensified as text messages sent by Mr Hodge stating that “the numbers you indicated are the numbers that I understand are acceptable for me to accept and call off the R….Really want to kill this off”. The “R” referring to the threatened referendum.
Mr Hodge had accidentally sent the messages to a Labour councillor, rather than to their intended recipient; Sayid Javid’s special advisor. Both are called Nick, apparently this was the cause of the mistake – never let anyone tell you that just about anybody, regardless of ability, can become a local councillor.
Jeremy Corbyn was nice enough to surprise a befuddled Teresa May with the leaked texts at PMQ’s. Mrs May’s response, a disappointing rebuttal about peddling alternative facts.
Social care is an issue that keeps bringing the current government to heel. As in 2016’s general election, when the so called dementia tax massively damaged the conservative campaign.
This summer the government’s green paper on social care will be published, the recommendations drawn from it may require radical reform to the sector. Increasing funding will inevitably feature. The ‘black hole’ in social care funding is currently estimated to reach £13 billion by 2020, while low wages have driven staff turnover rates up to 27% nationally – well above the average for similar sectors.
The forthcoming green paper has until now been a go to for any minister, who is being questioned on social care and struggling to answer substantively. Once published and in the hands of rebels and the opposition, it may become an authority to which they can refer to when challenging the government for neglecting and damaging social care provision in the UK.