UNISONActive is an unofficial blog produced by UNISON activists for UNISON activists. Bringing news, briefings and events from a progressive left perspective.

Thursday, 19 December 2013

Local Government On The Precipice

The Department for Communities and Local Government  yesterday announced the English local government funding settlement for 2014/15. By any definition it is a disaster for Councils and in many areas of the country sounds the death knell for democratic local services as we have known them.

Delivering his statement to the house (https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/provisional-local-government-finance-settlement-2014-to-2015 ) Local Government Minister Brandon Lewis made great play of the official spin that the settlement "leaves councils with considerable total spending power, with an overall reduction, excluding the Greater London Authority, for next year of just 2.9%".

But even a cursory examination of the full tables (https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/266776/Breakdown_of_SFA_-_FOR_PUBLICATION.xls ) shows this is PR line worthy of the Prime Minister’s only job in the real world.

The tables present central government funding proposals for local government over the next two years with figures for 2013/14 (adjusted), 2014/15 (provisional) and 2015/16 (illustrative). What these show is that around £5.6 billion will be stripped out of local government over the next two years, following the £6 billion taken out over this year and the preceding two years.

In England as a whole, including Fire Authorities, that is a central funding cut of 9.42% next year, 13.17% the year after and 21.35% overall across the two years.

That’s without any allowance for price inflation so the real term cash cut is larger. And with growth demand for services it means the gap between the services that are needed and the money to fund them is a yawning chasm. For many councils it will be gouge after slash after cuts totalling 50-60% in just five years.

In that context a smiling Brandon must have had tongue firmly welded to cheek when he said "the settlement that we are proposing recognises the responsibility of local government to find sensible savings and make better use of its resources." With the best will in the world no organisation can soak up cuts on this scale and still be expected to deliver the breadth, depth and quality of services that are needed in our communities. That is why councils up and down the country are now making plans to reduce virtually every service and cease to deliver many.

The challenge for trade unionists, as workers and as citizens, is to determine exactly how do we oppose this. The challenge for local politicians – in particular Labour Councillors – is to look at their national parties and wonder how long they can toe a line that is so demonstrably wrong and failing. Councillors of any persuasion do not take office with the express intention to decimate the services they have authority over. Except for Eric in his early days at Bradford of course.

For anybody who cares about local services, local democracy, the position of local authorities within civic life and the ability of local people to influence and hold to account local representatives this should be a decibel-thumping, lights-flashing, smoke-rising klaxon moment. The alarm bells were already ringing three years ago if anyone missed them.