Sunday, 20 January 2013

Ongoing cuts to local government are disastrous

My latest article for the Cornish Guardian was published on Friday. It addresses government cuts to local government and was as follows:

On 19th December 2012, the Communities Minister Eric Pickles announced the latest financial settlement for local government.

He told the House of Commons that the average cut to funding for local councils was 1.7%. Putting spin into over-drive, he claimed that it represented a “bargain to local authorities." 

Cornwall Council was told it would face a cut of 1.8% to what the government has defined as “spending power” – a spurious concept which aggregates monies spent in particular areas (including some funds not even under the control of the local authority).

However, according to staff at the unitary council, the “Government’s calculation is incorrect and double counts figures” and “in terms of actual comparable direct government funding, this is down by 6% compared with last year (£18m).”

Calculations by the Rural Services Partnership of Local Authorities has meanwhile found that “predominately rural councils have fared much worse than urban areas.”

In fact, the announcement about the settlement has been mired in total confusion, caused by governmental incompetence. After its official publication, numerous Councils had to contact the Department of Communities and Local Government (DCLG) to seek clarity and point out fundamental errors.

DCLG even sent out a revised settlement on 4th January, but information on a range of funding sources, such as the Education Support Grant, were still not included within the figures. Councils are being forced to make assumptions about what funding they might receive, causing further uncertainty.

There are also double-standards at the centre of the debate around this settlement.

It does, for example, include £36 million to cover the cost of Council Tax Benefit to the Council – but this is estimated to be £6 million less than what it cost in 2012/13. And yet, when Councils seek to find ways to bridge this extra funding gap and manage benefit payments, it is Eric Pickles who condemns the approach of certain local councils as “obscene.”

The reality is that cuts to local government have been greater than to almost all other parts of the public sector. And for Cornwall Council the cuts will, over a four-year period, equate to a reduction in spend of £500 million.

This is undermining the ability of local government to provide those vital public services that residents should be able to expect, but the Coalition has stated that future years could see even more cuts to local council budgets.

I am concerned that if the Conservative and Liberal Democrat Coalition does not reverse its cuts, it will simply destroy local government.

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