Fears grow as Government asks councils to make cuts up front.
As if the Coalition wasn’t content with systematically destroying the public sector over four years it is now requiring councils to make the bulk of cuts next year resulting in maximum chaos for workers and service users alike. Hackney council had already identified around £18 million worth of cuts for next year and had to find another £7 million to meet its target of £25 million. This represented around 7% of the council budget.
The council plan was to save around 7% per year for the next four years and this was based on the cuts announced by the Chancellor during last month’s Comprehensive Spending Review. Although this would have led to significant reductions in service levels and cuts to jobs it would have allowed the council to manage the transition better thus mitigating some of the worst effects of the government’s plans. The decision of the Chancellor to insist that most of the cuts are made in 2011/12 is devastating news for everyone involved as Jules Pipe pointed out last week on ITV London news: http://www.itv.com/london/armageddon-for-councils58346/
Hackney will also be hit harder than most as the grant funding it has received over the past few years which is designed in many cases to tackle deprivation is also being stripped away. This will hit the most in need the hardest, for example the Youth Service budget for this year stands at £16.264 million of which £8.878 million is grant funding. This cash is used to fund projects such as youth crime reduction and early intervention programmes. Although Hackney has done well in recent years to tackle some of these issues clearly any reduction in grant funding here will serve to undermine all that good work.
The changes to benefits will also hit Hackney disproportionately as a large proportion of residents receive welfare support. Those groups particularly at risk from the new housing benefit cap include the Jewish population in Stamford hill who generally have larger families and thus bigger houses. The cap coupled with high rents due to Hackney’s geographical location mean that residents will receive less support through welfare resulting in a greater need for them to access enhanced local government services. How will the council cope with the increased need from people who have been blitzed by the Coalition’s cuts?
The cuts in councils will affect every council in the land and that means that Tory and Lib Dem councils will also have to make the same draconian reductions to services as Labour ones. For example this morning Somerset Council announced that it would have to shut libraries, youth centres and stop mending the roads. Likewise other Tory/Lib Dem authorities have announced similar cuts. Surely Tory council leaders must be just as unhappy as Labour leaders and it will only be a matter of time before they are forced to lobby government to spread the cuts more evenly as their constituents realise the sheer magnitude of what will be lost.
Councils are always bashed harder than other parts of the public sector despite the fact that we provide more services, more regularly to more people than any other section of it. It’s good to see our local politicians starting to speak up for council services and defending our members but if we are to truly defend public service then perhaps we will need to start a coalition of our own, representing those in charge of councils throughout the country. One thing is for sure if local politicians throughout Britain do not start to come together in defence of the progress made in this sector over the past few years then we will lose the achievements that have been made and it will take a lot longer than four years to get them back.