Wednesday, 22 December 2010

No evidence of a Christmas present from Mr Pickles

My latest column in the Cornish Guardian addressed the spin surrounding the Coalition's cuts to local government. I hope you enjoy it - it is reproduced below:

For many weeks now, local people have been preparing for Christmas – looking ahead to family get-togethers, planning the celebrations and searching out those all-important presents.

But as a local councillor, and like many other people who work in or depend on the public sector, my thoughts have been dominated by the impending cuts.

On December 3rd, the Conservative/Independent administration that runs Cornwall Council voted through an emergency budget which included cuts totalling £170 million. In taking this action, they assumed that there would be a 30% cut in central government funding over the next four years.

This was only ten days before the government’s announcement of Cornwall’s funding package was due to be made public. Like many others, I hoped that the Secretary of State Eric Pickles would give everyone a big Christmas present by pulling back from draconian cuts.

And last Monday, when the announcement was made in the House of Commons, Mr Pickles responded to a question from Stephen Gilbert MP by stating: “I am delighted that the reductions in Cornwall will be 3.9% next year and 2.2% the following year.”

For a short period, I was pleased that the cuts were so much less than expected, but then the actual figures were released. These figures referred to a spurious concept called “spending power” and included estimates of locally-raised Council tax, Town and Parish Council monies as well as some NHS money. In terms of the cuts, it appeared to show a 9% cut to the main formula grant, though there was no detail about a range of other grants that the Council has historically dependent upon.

And adminst all this uncertainty, the political spinning went into overdrive.

Cornwall Council initially stated that it would take weeks for the Council to fully understand the complex statement, though it noted it was “in-line with expectations of around a 10% reduction in grant funding.” Days later, in a press release the Leader of the Council said it was a 16.5% reduction and almost exactly in line with expectations which, he said, justified the decision to push ahead with massive cuts!

By contrast, reporters in local newspapers interpreted the cuts as a 12% reduction in “core Whitehall funding.”

Cornish Liberal Democrats MPs also joined in the confusion, accusing the Conservatives on Cornwall Council of acting with “undue haste” because the Conservative/Liberal Democrat cuts are apparently less oppressive than expected.

Is it any wonder that people are confused.

There is a great lack of clarity about what is going on at the moment, though I and many others are having to work hard to make sense of it all.

In the meantime, wouldn’t it be great if Santa Claus could deliver some self-help books to Mr Pickles and his Coalition friends on the 25th December, covering such topics as finance, communication and straight-talking.

1 comment:

fixit44 said...

For info this link is to a spreadsheet giving the settlements around the country for 11/12 and 12/13. This shows cuts of 3.2% in 2011/12 and 2.85% in 2012/13. The cuts are in overall spending power - formula and specific grants + council tax assumed frozen for the two years.

The formula grant reduces from £245.30m in 2010/11 to £216.19m in 2011/12 and £200.30m in 2012/13. An 18% drop over the two years.

Specific grant goes from £28.9m in 2010/11 to £32.8m in 2011/12. This then appears on the next tab as 2011/12 including council tax freeze adj and is reduced to £28.4m. Not sure what slight of hand is going on there. For 2012/13 specific grants are £29.4m. There is also an additional £7.7m in 2011/12 and £7.4m in 2012/13 presumably for the councils new responsibilities around setting health priorities.