We’re being cut to the bone. We’ve cut a lot of fat off the bone and there’s not a lot left. It can’t go on like this.
The same phrase echoes across our analysis of the amount of money available for public services this year and, for once, it comes from politicians of every political hue.
Unfortunately, there is little to be optimistic about. The government is determined to see through its austerity programme and this has been reflected in the drop in money that it will be providing to local authorities next year. And forget lazy stereotypes about fatcats and councillors’ allowances – that is a drop in the ocean. This reduction in money will have a serious impact on important, nay vital, services. It will affect how we look after older people; how many social workers we can afford.
It will affect how often roads are resurfaced. It will affect schools, children’s care, libraries and many other things we take for granted.
But there is no easy answer.
Most areas have become accustomed to council tax being frozen each year, but in an era where the cost of living is going up more than wages, it would be a brave party who would argue for significantly higher taxes to pay for services – and a skilful one that could get backing for it. However, looking at the decreasing handouts from central government, what other option is there?
Another fear is that with this permanent impetus to save money, councils will end up becoming money-saving operations, rather than organisations that can act as instruments to improve our towns and cities. Their over-riding focus will be on what they can cut, not what they can do – and that is not healthy.
We’d love to be able to be more optimistic, but there are years of this to come. The chancellor’s original target for eradicating the deficit by 2015 has been pushed back. While the government has stuck to its spending plans, the country’s tax yield is smaller than anticipated so the money simply isn’t there.
The axe will be hanging over us for a while yet.
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