An election pact with the Liberal Democrats could force the Conservatives to abandon policies that would have starved social care of money, experts say.
Tony Travers, director of the Greater London Group at the London School of Economics, said the Conservatives could be forced to revise their pledge to spare the NHS from budget cuts.
“Unlike the Tories and Labour, the Liberal Democrats never committed themselves to protecting certain funds,” Travers said. “So a pact with the Liberal Democrats would make it easier for the Tories, for example, to spread the cuts more evenly across public services rather than concentrating those cuts in areas like social care to try to protect schools and the NHS.”
However, Travers warned that major cuts were inevitable, even if they were postponed until the economy improved, as the Lib Dems have demanded.
Anna Turley, deputy director of the New Local Government Network think-tank, said any pact between the Tories and the Liberal Democrats nationally could also “tone down the thirst for deep cuts to social care and see a more progressive approach”.
However, she said that, if a Conservative-dominated government made massive public sector cuts, the increased number of Labour-dominated councils since last week’s local elections could spark more fights over funding.
She said that, although the Local Government Association – now under Conservative control – might decide to work with a Tory government to decide how cuts are implemented, councils could be take a harder line in their relationships with ministers.
“It may mean that some individual councils will end up being bolder than the LGA and more prepared to stand up to the government, as we saw happening in the 1980s,” Turley said.
One leading social care source said he felt pitched battles over the sector were unlikely because there was consensus that its problems needed to be resolved. “The issues will focus more on short and long-term funding priorities,” he said.
“Councils are going to have to take difficult financial decisions and the uncertainty around the national situation means they won’t have a longer term context in which to place them. It will probably mean more councils raise their eligibility criteria in adult care, for example.”