After all the rumours, it's now official - local councils' funding is to be cut by a further 10% in 2015. This follows the real terms cut of 33% already imposed on local government since 2010.
The Conservative Party Chairman, Grant Shapps has said that this further cut can be found from efficiencies without any need for cuts to frontline services. The Conservative Chairman of the Local Government Association, Sir Merrick Cockell disagrees and has put out a statement today saying, "This cut will stretch essential services to breaking point in many areas...Local services on which people rely will have to be significantly reduced as a result. No area of spending can be totally immune and some services will be wound down entirely."
I have to say I agree with Merrick. You only have to look at the sorts of things that have been cut in Barnet since 2010 to see that frontline services have already been affected - significantly:
- 8 children’s centres have been closed
- Affordable child care funding has been cut
- Funding for Day Centres for the elderly has been cut
- Charges for disabled Blue Badge permits have been introduced
- More vulnerable people are being charged for home care help
- The Youth Service has been cut by two thirds
These are just a few of the services that have been cut by the Conservatives locally, but the enormity of it is brought into focus when you consider the amount of money being slashed from Barnet's Adults Social Care and Children's Services every year; £9.3m this year, £14.652m next year and £13.989m the year after. It is inconceivable to think that carving out chunks of money this size from local social care budgets is not having an impact on frontline services, and with today's announcement we now know these figures will be much worse.
When you consider that the Barnet Conservatives are cutting up to £15m a year from social care while spending nearly £28m on consultants and agency staff you have to question their priorities. According to this week's budget monitoring report £7m of this consultancy spend has gone to Agilisys - the consultants working on the council's 'One Barnet' plan to sell-off council services. The Conservatives maintain this is money they are 'investing to save', but my own view is that spend on external consultants has got out of hand and needs to be reigned in. This is just one of the areas that we as a Labour council would look at to try and ensure frontline services are protected.
We have to wait for the detail to emerge from the government's spending review announcement today before we can judge just how bad it will be for local government over the next three years, but while we wait, consider this comment from Chris Leslie, Labour's Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury, in the Guardian today:
"Three years of falling living standards and a flatlining economy has led to billions more borrowing to pay for economic failure. Far from balancing the books by 2015, as the government promised, the chancellor is being forced to make even more cuts."
Does anyone think the Conservatives' plan is working?