HC Deb 23 March 1976 vol 908 cc191-2
13. Mr. Luce

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services whether she has yet consulted the voluntary organisations on implementing the proposed cuts in community care services.

Dr. Owen

The public expenditure White Paper provides for some 3.9 per cent. growth in this coming year on personal social services expenditure and 2 per cent. growth for future years, but it is essential that the best use should be made of scarce resources, and voluntary organisations have an extremely important part to play. There will be continuing consultation with them both nationally and locally, and we shall not cut back our departmental budget for helping the voluntary organisations.

Mr. Luce

In view of the inevitable need to contain public expenditure for the foreseeable future, does the Minister agree that the voluntary organisations will have to play an increasingly important rôle in community care services? What are the Government doing to mobilise greater voluntary effort and tap the voluntary spirit that exists?

Dr. Owen

We all agree about the need to contain public expenditure, but we believe that within any given level of public expenditure there must still be priorities. We have chosen to give a high priority to health and personal social services. I do not disparage the contribution of the voluntary organisa- tions. The one thing that we have refused to cut in the Department is the budget with which we help voluntary organisations. The figure is currently running at £2.7 millions a year.

Mr. Steen

Is the Minister aware that voluntary organisations can perform services identical to those of the local authorities, but at half the cost? If the Minister appreciated that we would not need cuts at all.

Dr. Owen

None of us has a monopoly of wisdom about the contribution of voluntary organisations, and hon. Members on both sides of the House have a long record of working with them. They can sometimes replace statutory bodies, but more often than not they can work in close partnership with them and buttress their facilities. It is to the working partnership between statutory and voluntary bodies that my right hon. Friend and I have attached a great deal of importance.

Mrs. Chalker

Will the Minister intercede with other Government Departments and persuade them not to cut their Departmental budgets for voluntary organisations? Does he accept that we need a co-ordinated approach, but that at present the approach of Government Departments is fragmented?

Dr. Owen

I do not know about other Departments individually, but overall Government help is running at £20 million a year, and that is a very sizeable contribution.

Mr. Molloy

Will my hon. Friend consider that one way to satisfy the aspirations of the Conservatives, many of us on the Labour side and those in local organisations who depend upon public finance, is to urge the Chancellor to get cracking with the wealth tax. That would provide the money to implement all these admirable schemes.

Dr. Owen

We always try to satisfy the aspirations of the Conservatives. I take note of my hon. Friend's suggestion.

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