by David Woodard on 19 December, 2018
For the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer to announce that austerity is ending, as they both have done in recent weeks, is an insult to everyone involved in local government.
As we are now be too painfully aware, funding for local government has been cut by almost 60% since 2010 and there are further reductions to come. Let us not forget that local government cuts were happening before 2010 too.
The reality of this squeeze on local services is evident everywhere. It is easy to point to the visually obvious signs we see with our rural and estate roads, such as emerging potholes between road patches, missing white line and missing cats eyes but behind the scenes the picture is even worse.
Adult care services have failed so utterly to keep pace with rising demand that only the extremely needy can access support. Youth services are, in most areas, a chapter in a history book. Local education services are hint of their former selves.
Our local police services have seen 20,000 officers cut over the past eight years. They do not have the resources to investigate a high number of crimes.
Austerity is very much continuing. In the next financial year local government will have to make £1.3 billion in cuts.
The Local Government Association states that just to stand still and deliver the same services currently being provided, which have already been cut in the last decade, councils would need an additional £7.8 billion than they have in 2024/25.
The extra bits of money announced for social care, schools, potholes and town centres are nowhere near the amounts needed to meet the rising level of demand or costs. None of these, of course, allow local government to make its own choices about local priorities. Local authorities, such as Northumberland County Council, are being given crumbs and being told what to do with them.
The impact of this reduction in the funding of local services is now becoming painfully apparent. Crime is rising – loneliness, particularly in older people, is at shocking levels – mental health problems in children and young people is rising horrifically – congestion and air pollution are rising.
Local government is doing its best. Some councils, including Liberal Democrat run and led ones, are finding innovative ways to get the best deal and the best services for their areas. When in opposition, or campaigning outside the council, Liberal Democrats are championing their areas and standing up for the issues that matter for local residents.
Austerity, Mr Hammond, has created massive consequences for our communities and on people’s lives. Impacts will last much longer than your few years at Number 11. You had an opportunity to start to make lives better. Instead you gave higher rate taxpayers a tax cut. You are now massively funding and pursuing Brexit to the very cliff edge to appease the ERG Brexiteer MPs in your party – despite the majority view of parliament. Your policies need to change.