In conversation with:

02-06-2017

Richard Harbord, Co-Chair of the CIPFA/ADASS Social Care and Welfare Reform Panel and a member of the Health and Integration Board

Riachard spent 39 years in local government, including as chief executive and director of finance at the London Borough of Richmond 1988-99 and managing director of London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham 1999-2002.

What are your current roles? 

Over the last ten years I have become an odd job man. I have my own consultancy company. Amongst my current roles are strategic financial adviser for Hull City Council, adviser to Belfast City Council, chair of the Pension Boards for East Sussex and the London Borough of Harrow, independent member of the London Borough of Barnet’s Audit Committee, adviser to the software development company CPI Inform, and Better Care Fund Advisor for the LGA.

What would you change about the way the public sector is set up?

I would not change much at all, but for the whole of my career the financing of local government has been a key issue and I would like that to be set on a firm and sustainable setting. Either by increasing local taxes or through assigned revenues. 

I suppose I also believe that to truly qualify as 'public sector' there needs to be some sort of direct democratic control.

How do you see the future prospects for local government finance and social care within that?

There is no reason for optimism. Central government is unable to keep out of local government and always wants to control the purse strings. This leads to short termism and an unwillingness to take unpopular short term decisions for long term gain. Even the recent business rates proposals now seem threatened, and if they’re not implemented that can only be resolved in the short term by fudge and muddle. I strongly believe in a realistic and updated council tax and a strong business property tax of some kind.  

Social care is a classic in terms of central government’s inability to plan ahead. The current difficulties have been obviously coming for years, but there has been an unwillingness to face facts and take unpopular decisions to resolve the situation. The Dilnot proposals seemed to be a good basis for moving forward, but were not pursued. The Conservative’s manifesto proposals are not as good and are likely to cost more than Dilnot. It is difficult to see how there can be any reasonable and sustainable system without facing an increase in income tax – something which successive governments find abhorrent.

Will welfare reform impact on social care?

There is no doubt that the two are linked. Benefit caps and universal credit are having an adverse effect on a proportion of residents and that is bound to lead to additional burdens on local authorities and on social care. 

Of which professional achievements are you proudest?

There are several. Being president of the societies of both municipal and London Treasurers, and of the Institute of Revenues Rating and Valuation (IRRV), rate highly. Then there’s the length of time I have been an elected member of CIPFA Council, and the fact that I first did a volunteer job for CIPFA 50 years ago – my editorship of the students' journal 'Telescope'. Also my roles in making it possible for local authorities to use money market funds, and in unravelling interest rate swaps in the 1980s.

What do you wish you had known when you started out?

When I started out I knew nothing about local authorities. I was a disruptive and difficult employee, so I’m endlessly grateful to those who persevered with me. It took time to learn that the more you become involved the more you get out. I have always encouraged that in those who have worked with me.

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