Public spending cuts: the worst is yet to come
Nobody can fail to have been affected by the Coalition Government’s spending cuts. Areas all over the country – particularly areas like ours – have been disproportionately hammered. Some estimates suggest that George Osborne’s further cuts will render as much as 50% of councils unsustainable in the very near future and the National Audit Office recently reported that 40% of all council cuts had fallen on adult social care services. The consequence of this – predicted by Labour’s Shadow Health Secretary Andy Burnham in 2010 – is that the NHS is then overloaded by people unable to access the social care they need.
It was always a recipe for disaster and it has been done knowingly by a government which has now prided itself on wanting to take public spending back to levels last seen in the 1930s. That’s George Osborne’s latest boast: he wants to take Britain back to the 1930s. A pre-welfare state, pre-NHS period of British life. A period characterised by the Great Depression.
This matters hugely to Copeland and Cumbria as a whole. Whether we like it or not, our economy is still based upon public spending. Ripping public spending out overnight causes profound shock to local economies like ours; it clobbers consumer demand and it makes businesses (including retailers) reluctant to invest in areas where the buying power of the population is reducing, not increasing.
I’ve been categorically clear in setting out the need for us to rebalance our local economy, this means growing the private sector, enabling local, indigenous businesses to flourish and changing our relationship with the nuclear industry. With Albion Square, with NuGen at Moorside and with continued challenges to Sellafield Ltd and NMP to open up to local business supply chains, this approach is working but it needs to happen more quickly – this is beyond doubt.
But consider this: Copeland Borough Council has experienced perhaps its worst ever annus horribilis. The Council has had its budget decimated by the Government and all of the political parties on the council worked together to produce a joint budget which contained some truly unpalatable decisions. I have no doubt that these were decisions they did not want to make, but as a local authority it is legally obliged to balance the books.
Bad as this has been, our plan has begun to show signs of working. It’s just as well because on the final parliamentary day of the calendar year, the government rushed out a series of bad news announcements designed to evade parliamentary scrutiny. Amongst them was the Provisional Local Government Financial Settlement for 2015/16 which revealed that Copeland Borough Council now faces one of the biggest cuts in the entire country.
Copeland, along with a number of other councils including Barrow and Allerdale, faces cuts of 6.4% in spending power. This is a loss in funding equivalent to more than £18 per house in the Borough.
This is at the same time that some Councils are receiving big increases in funding. Surrey council is having its spending power increased by over 3% despite already getting 7 times as much funding per dwelling than Copeland Borough Council. Surrey council will receive almost £60 per house extra in 2015/16, while Richmond upon Thames will get £36.81 per house extra.
Think about that for a moment. This government is putting more resources into the wealthiest areas of the country and taking resources from the least wealthy local authorities. This tells its own story.
We deserve better than this, but it’s clear that it will take all of our resolve, grit, pride and determination to ensure that we succeed as a community in 2015 and beyond.
We aren’t all in this together – we never have been – but as this government continues its willful neglect of areas like ours, one thing is clear: we will succeed despite it.