Thursday, 10 February 2011

Of Cuts and Councils..

A letter from a number of Liberal Democrat Councillors and Council leaders in this morning's Guardian has, of course, been interpreted by the anti-Coalition Right as an attack on Nick Clegg's leadership of the Party.

It is probably fair to say that while the Government must have known that some Councils would have to make painful decisions on reducing services and cutting jobs, the volume of announcements and the scale of the cuts may have come as a surprise.

Before the election, the Conservative propaganda machine, supported by the Daily Mail and others, fed the image of local Councils stuffed with staff doing "non-jobs" such as Diversity Officers. It would be easy, the argument went, for these posts to be deleted and cuts to be made without any impact on services.

The truth, of course, is more complex. Even if 2011/12 funding had been frozen at 2010/11 numbers, Councils would have faced a 3.5% cut in real terms based on ambient inflation and especially inflation in key sectors relating to long-term care for children and the elderly. Actual reductions in central Government funding have combined with a freeze in local income to provide real deep cuts for many authorities.

The problem is that providing services is basically what Councils do and providing them for the most vulnerable in society is pretty much at the heart of it so ANY reduction in funding is going to impact services and the users of these services. Wisely, key frontline services such as the provision of social care and adult/child protection have been safeguarded and, given that cuts have to be made somewhere, it's back-office staff and then non-essential services.

Every community wants to defend its library and even its public toilets and no doubt some backbench Conservative MPs may find themselves in choppy waters locally.

The fact is the Conservative elements came to believe their own propaganda and that's dangerous and foolish for any group. Councils have been for the most part run effectively and efficiently over the past two decades despite constant Government interference and edict. Local factors can make a Council bad or good but overall most Councillors and public servants are only trying to do their best for their communities.

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