Councils across Britain are working out how to implement funding cuts on a scale not seen since before the Second World War. The coalition government have chosen to make people who use council services bear the brunt of paying down the cost of a global crisis caused by millionaire bankers. Council services will be cut harder than national government departments, and those cuts are being frontloaded on a massive scale to force councils to close services down rather than manage the cost reductions in a more sensible and measured way.
These decisions are political. The coalition wants to finish the job Thatcher failed to complete by killing off public services to allow the private sector to take over.
The term ‘council services’ doesn’t excite much passion. So let’s look in more human terms at what the coalition government is forcing councils to cut:
• It’s the home helps who enable frail older and disabled people to stay living in their own home;
• It’s the youth activities and youth workers who stop vulnerable young people going off the rails and falling into a life of crime;
• It’s the support teachers who help disadvantaged young people do better at school;
• It’s the people who sweep your street, collect your recycling and look after your local park;
• It’s the training that gets unemployed people back to work;
• It’s affordable childcare;
• It’s health workers who help mothers infected with HIV;
• It’s the professionals who protect children and women at risk of violent abuse;
• It’s the council homes that keep people from sleeping in shop doorways…
This is where the Tory-Lib Dem cuts will hit.
But in an act of sublime deceit, the Tories and Lib Dems intend to avoid the blame for what they’re doing. By cutting the overall funding and then making councils take the final decisions they plan to localise the blame for the cuts.
Labour councils like Lambeth will do all we can to protect the most vulnerable and protect frontline services. But with a third of our total budget set to disappear there’s a limit to what we can do. Since winning back Lambeth Council from the Tories and Lib Dems in 2006, Labour has already cut out £35m in waste they left behind, frozen council tax for two years after they put it up 40 per cent, and invested in new services including better youth services and lunch clubs for older people.
Our council is far more efficient than when they ran it, and where they left our council bankrupt we have stabilised the finances. Now we are exploring ways to turn Lambeth into Britain’s first cooperative council – looking for new ways to hand power to communities and the people who use our services in one of the most radical rethinks of public services in the country.
We will keep up the pressure to eliminate waste and we will remain focused on supporting those who most need our services. But do not believe the cuts that will come next year are the fault of our councils. These spending cuts are happening because of choices made by the Tories and Lib Dems in government.
This article was first published on Left Foot Forward