This week the Government told councils across the country how much funding they will get next year. They sent out spreadsheets showing the cuts are much more savage than expected with poorer areas hit harder than wealthier areas.
The cuts are being made to pay back billions of pounds used to bail out the banks and save the global economy from collapse. The cuts are not unique to Britain, they are affecting every major industrialised country in the world. We hoped from comments made by Prime Minister David Cameron that the cuts would be shared fairly, after all he said we are ‘all in this together’ and that the ‘greatest burden will fall on the broadest shoulders’. The reality is dramatically different.
The Tory-Lib Dem Government is targeting the cuts on the poorest, and at every stage they have tried to cover up what they are doing by making misleading public announcements intended to deceive the public.
Take the original Spending Review announcement. Tory Chancellor George Osborne stood up, flanked by Cameron and Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg, and told the House of Commons that local government would face cuts of 7.1% a year for four years. A few days later the spreadsheets arrived from the Treasury. Lambeth’s first-year cut was not 7.1% but 16.7% and our second-year cut 11%. Over four years, the total cuts added up to 35%, over a third of the total budget. This is vastly more than the Chancellor announced. Worse, the unexpected front-loading gave us just weeks to trim nearly £40m off spending, nearly double the £20m the Chancellor’s original announcement implied. Front-loading cuts in that way means councils do not have the time they need to carefully manage spending reductions. Instead, they will be forced to slash services brutally, including vital care services for some of the most vulnerable children and older people in our communities.
Jules Pipe is the elected Labour mayor of Hackney and as Chair of London Councils is regarded on all sides as a consensual and highly effective leader. At a major London Council’s summit in Westminster in November Jules, sharing a platform with Tory Communities Secretary Eric Pickles, pointed out the cuts were much bigger than the Government had announced and explained the enormous difficulties caused by the massive front-loading. Pickles response was to launch a disgraceful attack on Mayor Pipe in which he denied there was any significant frontloading and told the Mayor of Hackney that his comments were a fiction worthy of entry for the Booker Prize. Either Mr Pickles didn’t know what his own Department had agreed or he was not telling the truth because the spreadsheets Jules Pipe had received from the Government, and which he forwarded to Mr Pickles the following day, proved his point.
Even that fiasco hasn’t stopped the falsification. This week the Government issued the full details of their funding cuts for local services. On Monday Mr Pickles announced he had addressed the front-loading issue he originally said didn’t exist and assured the country that no council would face a cut greater than 8.9% in the first year. The media widely reported the 8.9% figure which Mr Pickles claimed was ‘fair’. But then the spreadsheets arrived, and yet again the reality of the cuts is far worse than the Government had told us. Lambeth is getting an 11.3% cut in the first year, or in cash terms will lose £37.5m from our total base budget of £310m. Cuts on that scale will mean savaging local services. Other councils like Hackney, Newham and Tower Hamlets will face similar savage levels of cuts, while wealthier rural areas like Surrey, Dorset and Buckinghamshire (all Tory-run) will face minimal if any cuts at all. Independent commentator Professor Tony Travers described the decisions as a ‘Tory heartland budget’ delivered with the full connivance of the Lib Dems. In other words, they are punishing poorer Labour-run areas to protect richer Tory-run councils.
The way Mr Pickles, Mr Osborne and Mr Clegg have cooked the books with their final spending decisions is by making massive cuts in funding for local services then adding millions of pounds of health spending into the total so that the overall percentage looks smaller. It’s a deceitful sleight of hand that allows them to get their headlines out before anyone – journalists, councillors or the opposition – has had time to see through the fog they’ve deliberately created. This is an act of mass deception perpetrated on some of the poorest and most vulnerable people in the country. It leaves me wondering whether this Government, as well as having unfairness running through them like a stick of rock, is pathologically incapable of telling the truth.