“Even if councils stopped filling in potholes, maintaining parks, closed all children’s centres, libraries, museums, leisure centres and turned off every street light they will not have saved enough money to plug the financial black hole they face by 2020.”
My article for this weeks Evening News
As our local authorities prepare to set annual budgets, that’s the most spine-chilling indictment of Conservative council cuts I’ve heard.
Terrifying, not just because it conjures up an almost post-apocalyptic vision of local services, but also because that isn’t an opposition politician or council leader talking.
Those are the words of Lord Porter, Conservative chairman of the Local Government Association.
And he’s absolutely right to break ranks to defend our local services. This government’s cuts to local authority budgets are eye-watering.
Here in our city, Norfolk County Council is currently trying to deal with a shortfall of £111m over the next three years – bringing total annual county cuts to date to well over £300m. The City Council has already had to make £28m of recurring cuts and savings and must now plug a further £2.3m yearly funding gap.
There’s absolutely no political or civic fairness in this frenzy of cuts.
Nationally, the 10 most deprived councils are facing cuts 18 times higher than the 10 richest.
And while Norwich struggles to cope with a tsunami of cuts as demand for services soars, affluent Tory shire councils are getting an increase in their spending power.
To add insult to injury, local council tax payers are left to pick up the bill for new council duties dreamed up by central government while the self-same national administration slashes its funding for those local authorities.
When county councils are cut, it’s our NHS that bleeds – the prima facie demonstration of the false economy of Tory austerity.
Social care provided by councils is cheaper than hospital care and cuts to councils just increase pressure on the NHS.
A ResPublica report showed that a funding gap for residential care of £1bn by 2020/21 could lead to the loss of around 37,000 social care beds, shunting £3bn of annual costs on to the NHS.
But it’s even worse than that, as the most recent estimate for the social care funding gap now stands at £3.5bn.
Lord Porter had the guts to face down his own party. But Tory MPs in Norwich and Norfolk recently showed how spineless they are when it comes to taking the rap for their government’s assault on local councils and how little interest they have in standing up for city and county services.
If their MP mailbags are anything like mine, they’ll know exactly the practical consequences of their party’s cuts to Norfolk County Council: older people and their children worried about dwindling access to social care and wondering what support they’ll get after a discharge from hospital; parents of children with special educational needs seeking fast disappearing school support; local charities reliant on county funding to help the most vulnerable trying to cope with haemorrhaging funding; and profound community concern about potential closures of libraries and fire stations.
Concerned councillors on the county council’s policy and resources committee – which includes five Tories – invited all Norfolk MPs to a special meeting to discuss the crisis on their own doorstep and to argue for a better deal for Norfolk.
Of Norfolk’s seven Tory MPs five said no to the invitation, one said yes and then pulled out and one didn’t even reply to the invitation.
The meeting was on a Friday when we MPs aren’t in Westminster. I made the time to go – why couldn’t they?
However, even as funding for our public services is decimated, the big beasts of the outsourcing industry are feeding hungrily on what remains.
When David Cameron won in May, the National Outsourcing Association celebrated his return thus: “Spending on public sector outsourcing almost doubled to £120bn under the coalition. We expect to see a plethora of new outsourcing deals over the coming months now that the election is over.”