Councils across Yorkshire & Humber recently joined others – of all political persuasions – to lobby the Chancellor on the dire consequences of further deep cuts. But they had been bracing themselves for further axing – which is exactly what they got yesterday from our part-time Chancellor.
The suffering is general, but it’s not evenly shared.
The combined axes of Osborne and Pickles have not been falling equally across all Councils. Instead there has been bare-faced political, regional bias – in ways which make nonsense of any idea that this is a ‘national’ government.
Across the Yorkshire and Humberside region, councils were already dealing with previously announced cuts of around 34% to their budgets – for services from social care and waste collection to libraries and pot- hole repairs.
Further grant reductions of approximately 10 per cent for local government were announced yesterday for the period leading up to March 2016, with the likelihood of additional reductions to follow leading up to the end of the decade.
Leeds City Council, the second-largest local authority in England, will already have made reductions of £200 million over a three-year period by March 2014. That period has seen significant decisions taken in terms of stopping, reducing or altering a range of council services and how they are delivered.
This new 10% cut is on top of these.
And have no doubt about it, its results will be dire.
It’s hard sometimes to see grasp what figures like ‘a £300 million cut across Yorkshire and Humberside’ mean.
So here it is in concrete terms.
It amounts to
– 5.7 million pot hole repairs; or
– 16,200 care workers; or
– 9,000 social workers; or
– 16,200 nursery nurses; or
– 1,500 Sure Start centres;
– 1,500 indoor leisure centres; or
– 1,200 local libraries.
Responding to the awful news that cuts of this scale were exactly what we’d got, the Labour Leader of Leeds City Council, Councillor Keith Wakefield, challenged the government to tackle “the clear inequalities and unfairness” in reductions to council funding.
“While we were expecting to see another 10 per cent cut in our grant funding as the government’s austerity measures continue, that doesn’t make it any easier in terms of continually taking significant chunks out of public finances and still expecting core services to be delivered.
“We have done all we can since these reductions began to work within our means but with a clear priority of working as hard as we can to protect key services for our most vulnerable members of society. The decisions we have faced along the way have been far harder than any of us imagined and with more reductions to come clearly many more painful decisions are going to have to be made.”
And don’t be misled into thinking any of this is ‘fair’ or an austerity which ‘we’re all in together’.
A series of changes to the way local government funding works have ensured that areas outside London and the South East are being significantly disadvantaged.
Figures released this month by the Special Interest Group of Metropolitan Authorities (SIGOMA) revealed the effect of the changes between 2010 and 2012.
They amount to a REDUCTION per person in Leeds and the wider Yorkshire and Humber region of approximately £140.
This is almost DOUBLE the national average for England of approximately £80.
Compare a roughly £45 per person INCREASE over that same period in London.
And things are only going to get worse.
SIGOMA is forecasting that by 2017-18 the cumulative impact of all the various changes will be a total funding reduction of £2.7billion across the Yorkshire and Humber region.
That’s around £502 per head of population.
This compares to an equivalent of £352 per head in London and £256 per head in the wider South East.
Commenting on the figures Councillor Wakefield added:
“These figures are clearly a cause for concern as they indicate inherent unfairness in the reality of the financial position with the effect of actually increasing inequality between affluent and lesser well-off areas rather than reducing it.’
The new ways of funding Local Government devised by this Government are blatant – they give to those who already have, and take from those who have not. They’re an exercise in increasing inequalities – with a strong bias against the North.
Councillor Wakefield again:
“We also have major concerns that things like the New Homes Bonus, capping council tax and the new system of business rates collections benefit better-off areas as their starting positions with higher house prices and stronger local economies are much better than poorer areas, so I would call on the government to look very carefully at the real effect these changes are having.”
People like Councillor Wakefield are the voice of reason.
But it’s increasingly clear that reason has little impact on this most political of Chancellors.
He’s a part-time Chancellor because he’s a full-time Tory politician.
He’s intent on only one thing – a Tory victory in 2015.
It seems there’s nothing he won’t sacrifice to that.
So under this Tory/LibDem Coalition – don’t fall ill, don’t have young children, don’t need social care – and don’t expect to keep fit or read books!
Oh, and better watch your axles – you’re going to have to get used to pot-holes.