COMMENT: Our public services can only take so much

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Today we see two stories that highlight what happens after years of tightened public purse-strings.

Whether you believe that the Cameron government’s austerity programme was necessary or not – or, indeed, whether you explain the country’s financial situation as caused by the Labour government or the financial crisis – is not the issue here today.

Those arguments have gone round for years, are often politically motivated in themselves, and are not useful when looking at the country in which money for public services is tight.

For example, look at today’s reports.

On one hand, Portsmouth City Council leader Donna Jones has written to the government asking for up to £10m so the council can afford to fit sprinklers to its high-rise towers. She points out that the council’s grant from the government – which lest we forget is not a gift but is itself made up of public money – has dropped by 44 per cent over six years. Her point is that the government has a duty to protect its citizens – and after the Grenfell disaster it is a strong one.

On a related issue we have spoken to Hampshire’s chief constable Olivia Pinkney about the force’s financial situation and the choices it faces. Last year the Police Federation complained that the rank-and-file officers were having to work 12-hour shifts just to make sure that routine cover was in place, and that they were too stretched to operate safely.

This year, Mrs Pinkney says, they have learned from 2016 and have brought in new arrangements – but the cost to some staff is that not all can book time off during the school summer holidays – to the obvious detriment of their family life. Sadly, that’s also a symptom of what happens when you see funding reduce and you have 1,000 fewer officers than before.

So what’s the answer? Every part of the public sector – police, health, social care and councils – despite the austerity years, pleads poverty. We’d all like to see more money available to these services – but previously asking citizens to pay more tax has been political suicide. Perhaps it should not be.