Reading the recent announcements from Public Health Minister, Steve Brine, about the new trailblazer programme to tackle childhood obesity I couldn’t help but wonder whether there is any joined up policy thinking taking place on domestic matters whilst the shadow of Brexit remains looming large over the country.
Whilst any new money is welcomed by local government, alongside the ambition to halve childhood obesity by 2030, a competition where local authorities can bid to be one of five winners who will receive £100k a year for three years to come up with innovative ideas around active lifestyles and healthy eating, isn’t going to push back the tide on the problem when a tsunami of cuts is coming in the other direction and overwhelming public health initiatives; closing parks; forcing greenspace sell offs; and causing significant reductions in accessible sports and leisure facilities.
The damage austerity is inflicting on frontline services which play such an important part in keeping community life functioning is a multi-billion-pound problem and if we truly wish for children to be more active and play outdoors then a safe, green, well maintained and well-lit local environment is crucial to this. Unfortunately, decisions forced by on-going budget cuts appear to be taking things in the wrong direction, which is counter intuitive to the Ministers ambition.
Listening to the Prime Ministers speech in Birmingham her announcement on lifting the borrowing cap for councils on housing will be welcomed across the sector, along with a signal that austerity has exhausted the country and its end as a policy is nigh but urgent action is needed not just statements of intent. The lag in time from policy statements to the tap being turned on with regard to money reaching the frontline can take years.
The whole sector will now wait on the budget statement later this month to see if the chancellor is prepared to put a new domestic programme in to play by dealing with the suffocating issue of funding social care. If there’s no real further action then the announcement of the death of austerity will be somewhat premature and we will be back to a waiting game for the comprehensive spending review.
Let’s hope that local government is now beginning to be seen as part of the solution to some of the big domestic policy issues that have stalled during the austerity era, however in order to deliver, the sector needs a resolution to the funding crisis that equates to billions, not initiatives that add up to not much more than a million.