Sunday, 4 December 2016

The Autumn Statement ... all a bit gloomy!

My article in last week’s Cornish Guardian addressed the recent Autumn Statement and the setting of Cornwall Council’s budget for 2017/2018. It was as follows:

The first autumn statement from the new Chancellor, Philip Hammond, has rightly generated a host of very gloomy headlines.

His statement included projections of lower growth from the Office of Budget Responsibility, while resultant discussions have focussed on the likelihood of higher inflation, lower tax revenues, continuing austerity and a squeeze on household incomes.

The independent Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) has meanwhile reported that “workers would earn less in real wages in 2021 than they did in 2008,” with additional analysis showing that the biggest losers in the next few years will be people on low incomes.

Paul Johnson, the director of the IFS, commented that “this has been the worst decade for living standards certainly since the last war and probably since the 1920s."

It is such a massive contrast to the personal circumstances of Mr Hammond’s predecessor at the Treasury. Instead of focussing on his role as an MP, George Osborne recently raked in a total of £320,000 for giving five lectures to financial institutions and a university.

And it was especially disappointing that Philip Hammond did not act to address the crisis in adult social care.

This even led to a cross-party appeal from the Conservative, Labour, Liberal Democrat and Independent leaders of the Local Government Association for “urgent action” without which the “quality and safety of care of our elderly is at risk.”

One newspaper summed up the situation as “elderly care close to collapse as council funding runs out.”

Last week also saw the Liberal Democrat and Independent administration at Cornwall Council set its budget for 2017/2018 when a majority of councillors, myself included, voted for a council tax increase of 3.97%. This included a precept levy of 2% to be specifically used for social care.

Projections show that the unitary authority will raise an additional £14 million from council tax next year but, because of ongoing cuts from central government, the Council will, overall, end up with £2.5 million less to spend on services.

At the council meeting, Conservative councillors voted against the budget but failed to put forward any alternative proposals for consideration, and did not even acknowledge how cuts in central government funding were, to a large degree, responsible for many of the financial problems being faced by Cornwall Council.

In these very difficult times for local government, it is well-documented that there are many dangers associated with the Council’s budget and, for the sake of our public services, we need to do everything that we can to put pressure on the new Chancellor to end the under-funding of local councils.

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