Ed Davey speech on social care at the LGA conference in Bournemouth

6 Jul 2023

[Check against delivery.]

Good morning everyone.

Thank you very much Joe, and thank you Shaun and all of you for inviting me today.

I’d like to start by taking a moment to pay tribute to Lord Kerslake, who sadly passed away earlier this week.

A public servant through and through, with a career that took him from Hounslow to Sheffield to the very top of the civil service.

I benefited greatly from Bob’s experience and wisdom when I was a Minister, as I know many of you did in local government too.

I know we’ll miss his experience and wisdom in the months and years ahead, and our thoughts are with his family and friends.

But it’s always wonderful to come to the LGA conference.

Everyone here, of all parties and none, shares a common purpose, a common desire – to do the best for our communities.

So thank you. For your public service and all the work you do for your communities.

And thank you to the LGA for bringing us together, across party lines, to learn from each other and help tackle big challenges together.

For me personally, it’s also wonderful to come to the LGA conference and see more and more brilliant Liberal Democrat councillors every year.

And more and more brilliant Liberal Democrat council leaders.

This year is no exception, after a fantastic set of local election results in May.

Where we gained an incredible 407 councillors right across England – from Sunderland to South Hams, from Lewes to Lancaster.

Holding our majorities on seven councils. Increasing our majorities on another ten. And gaining majority control of 12 more councils. Fantastic.

It’s great to be back here in Bournemouth, especially with the brilliant Vikki Slade leading the council once again.

And I’ll look forward to being back here in September for our own party conference.

It’s great to see so many brand new Liberal Democrat councillors here today, along with so many familiar and experienced faces.

So let me say thank you, all of you, for your hard work on behalf of our party and – more importantly – of your communities.

And let me also say a special thank you to Joe Harris, who, on top of doing a superb job as Leader of Cotswold District Council, has also led our LGA Group through this period of rapid expansion.

Congratulations Joe on your reelection as Group Leader, and let’s make sure the next two years are just as fruitful!

Because growing our strength in local government really matters to me.

It’s not just about seeing more of the map coloured gold – although let’s be honest, it does look better that way, doesn’t it?

It’s not just about beating other parties.

It comes down to the core of what my party, the Liberal Democrats, are all about…

Our fundamental belief that it is through local government – where people come together to make decisions about their local area – that we can make the biggest difference to people’s lives.

And from that belief comes our deep and lasting commitment to community politics.

That’s what sets us apart from the other parties.

And it’s why we make local elections such a priority.

Why I spend a lot of my time encouraging our members to stand for their local council.

Why our local government family is such an important part of our wider party.

It’s also why we want to shift more power out of the centre in Whitehall, to put real power in the hands of local communities – so decisions are made by and for the people and communities they affect.

Because getting the decisions you have to make right is hard, but it’s crucial.

And I see up close the difference a good local council with great local councillors can make –

Because I’m fortunate to live in the Royal Borough of Kingston, which has had a Liberal Democrat-run council for most of the last thirty years.

It’s doing amazing things, like building hundreds of new social homes.

And as I travel the country, I get to see the brilliant things all of you are doing to change lives in your local communities too.

Like Liberal Democrat-run Hull City Council, creating a two hundred and fifty thousand pound Crime Prevention Fund to tackle community crime, working with local police teams and community groups.

Or Chelmsford, where we are putting in place new rules to protect public open spaces, and planting more than thirty thousand trees as part of a ten-year mass greening project.

Or Portsmouth, where we’re investing millions to help children with special educational needs, and delivering hundreds of extra council homes, including buying back properties sold off under Right to Buy.

Liberal Democrat councils, showing the good that local government can do.

And that’s especially important right now, because local government is on the front lines in the three biggest crises facing our country:

The cost-of-living crisis. The health crisis. And the environmental crisis.

Let me start with the cost-of-living crisis –

More like a cost-of-living emergency.

We all know the grim statistics.

Food prices, up 19% in the last year.

The average energy bill, still more than £2,000 a year.

Mortgage payments, up by hundreds of pounds a month, as rates rise above 6%.

And core inflation at 7% and rising, despite the Government’s promises.

Scary numbers.

But I know that you – like me – see what those numbers mean for real people in their everyday lives, at your advice surgeries and in your communities.

The parents, forced to rely on food banks to stop their children going hungry.

The families, losing their homes because they can’t afford the rent.

Everyone, finding it harder and harder to make ends meet.

And with the out-of-touch Government refusing to help, it’s local councils who are providing a lifeline.

Eastbourne was the first to declare a “cost-of-living emergency”, and many others across the country have followed suit.

You are stepping up remarkably, while the Conservative Government only lets people down.

But no matter how hard local government tries, I know that you can’t support families through this cost-of-living crisis alone –

Especially when your own council finances have already been stretched to breaking point.

That’s why we will continue to press the Government to finally take real action to bring energy bills further, support families facing the steepest rises in mortgage payments, protect renters, and bring inflation down –

Action funded by a proper windfall tax on the record profits of the oil and gas giants,

And by reversing the Conservatives’ unfair tax cuts for the big banks.

Families are working hard to make ends meet and councils are working hard to help. It’s time the Government got to work too.

And what about the second crisis facing our country? The health crisis.

People waiting weeks to see their GP.

Parents finding it impossible to get their child a dentist appointment.

Families watching their loved ones wait hours, in pain and distress, for an ambulance to arrive.

Millions of people stuck on hospital waiting lists, unable to work.

As we proudly celebrate the seventy-fifth birthday of the NHS – one of our country’s greatest achievements – we also cannot ignore the sheer scale of the crisis it is facing today.

Now, this is not usually considered a local government issue. It is the “National” Health Service after all.

But we in this room know different.

We know that the crisis in the NHS is inextricably linked to the crisis in social care.

You can’t fix the NHS without fixing social care. And you can’t fix social care without local government.

This is an issue very close to my heart.

As many of you know, I’ve been a carer for most of my life –

Looking after my mum, when I was a teenager and she had terminal cancer –

Organising the care for my dear Nana –

And now Emily and I care for our severely disabled son John,

Who needs 24/7 care, and will do for the rest of his life.

So I know how important it is that we get care right, for the people who need it and for their loved ones.

But it is essential for our NHS too.

Because the crisis in social care means that only two in five people are able to leave hospital when they are ready to do so…

And that puts even more pressure on already overstretched hospitals…

Leaving patients stuck for hours waiting to be seen in A&E…

And ambulances stuck for hours waiting outside to hand patients over…

Which means people suffering heart attacks and strokes are having to wait for hours at home for an ambulance to arrive.

It’s all connected. And it’s all causing so much pain and distress.

You don’t need me to tell you about the problems in social care.

It’s been under extreme pressure for years. Now it’s turning into an avalanche – and threatening to bury the NHS.

Obviously a big part of it is funding…

The multi-billion-pound black hole in local authority budgets,

And the shameful way the Conservatives have broken their manifesto commitment to forge a cross-party agreement on social care funding.

But the other big part is staff.

There aren’t enough carers.

Not nearly enough carers.

Adult social care has 165,000 vacancies across England.

More than one in ten frontline care jobs unfilled.

Leaving more than 2.5 million people without the care they need.

This isn’t a job we can outsource to ChatGPT… we simply have to recruit more carers.

But we won’t do it while carers earn less than even the lowest-paid jobs in supermarkets and call centres –

And many carers don’t even get the minimum wage, once you factor in time travelling between patients.

And we won’t do it while Conservative Ministers denigrate care work as “unskilled”.

We won’t do it unless the Government starts valuing carers properly –

And makes sure they are paid properly too.

That’s why the Liberal Democrats are calling for a new Carers’ Minimum Wage,

Set £2 an hour above the national minimum wage.

And – crucially – funding from the Government to local authorities to cover the extra cost.

On top of filling the existing hole in their social care budgets.

A big idea, to start to solve the crisis in social care –

And in turn, help to solve the crisis in our NHS too.

Finally, let me turn to the environmental crisis plaguing our communities:

The filthy, raw sewage being dumped by water companies into our rivers, lakes and coastal areas.

Millions of tonnes of sewage every year.

It’s outrageous. It’s unacceptable. And it has to stop.

Liberal Democrats have put forward a plan to stop it:

Transforming water companies into public benefit companies,

Putting a sewage tax on their profits to clean up their mess,

Banning bonuses for water bosses until discharges and leaks end,

Replacing Ofwat with a tough new regulator with the powers to actually prevent sewage dumping.

That’s our plan. But the Government is still refusing to lift a finger.

Ministers have chosen time and again to let water companies get away with it.

And so – like so much else that the Government isn’t doing – it falls to you. To councils.

Like Liberal Democrat-run Stockport Council, which launched the country’s first sewage inquiry earlier this year –

Chaired by the brilliant and fearless Councillor Lisa Smart.

Just one example of the good work Liberal Democrat councils are doing to protect their precious local environment in the face of indifference from central Government.

It’s a lot, isn’t it?

A cost-of-living crisis. A health crisis. And an environmental crisis.

All in the aftermath of the pandemic –

And in the face of economic stagnation.

All made so much worse by a Government that is so out-of-touch that Ministers not seem not to even realise these crises are happening,

Let alone care enough to do something about them.

It all adds up to an enormous challenge for you – the local authorities on the frontline.

But looking around this hall,

Seeing so many brilliant local government leaders, like Joe –

So many strong local champions fighting every day for your communities –

It fills me with hope.

I know we can meet these challenges.

I know we can give people the fair deal they deserve.

If the Government gives you the powers and the funding to get on with the job.

And that’s what I’ll be fighting for.

Thank you.





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