Sunday, 3 October 2010

The pickled politics behind local government budget cuts

Jabba the Hut - Intergalactic Gangster
The annual Kirklees Council budget setting process has begun and early. It is usually another couple of months before everything kicks off from a Councillor point of view, but what with the governments cuts agenda it pays to start early I guess. Last Saturday we had a meeting at the Deighton Centre to kick the process off. The meeting was not an official Council meeting, no decisions are made there and the idea is to inform Councillors and to explore ideas for handling the truly terrible economic situation the government(s) have put us in. The meeting is held under budget protocols meaning that Cllrs are free to express ideas without them being reported wider so as not to 'send hares running' on things that may or may not happen. So what can I tell you? All Parties on the Council were represented, around 18 Councillors present, the Chief Exec and around 4 other Senior Council officers. The background to much of what was discussed is known with anywhere between 25% and 40% cuts in budgets. It doesn't take a genius to work out that this will mean some very difficult choices going forward and a lot of pain. You can imagine how I felt reading an article in'First' magazine by Eric Pickles MP, the Communities and Local Government Minister entitled, 'A new golden age'. It was all about localism or as Eric puts it,

"Instead of demanding that councils report back to me on everything they do, it means expecting that they become much more accountable to local residents instead"

So lets get this right, the Coalition Government cuts funding to local authorities and then Councillors have to be accountable for the 'choices' they make. Of course there's very little choice in reality. This week has been redundancy/retirement week at Kirklees Council. The numbers of staff leaving the Council is huge,  around 500 are gone with around another 1000 to go over the next few months but even this will not be enough services will have to be cut further to satisfy government demands or as Eric puts it,

"For the first time, councils will have real power and a real say over how money gets spent. "

another particularly irritating quote,

"We've cut the apron strings which have tied (Councils) to Whitehall for too long, giving them freedom to act on behalf of their residents,"

This is just utter tosh and a degree of spin that would make Mandelson blush (OK maybe not). People are being 'freed' of local facilities, services and income. He makes a virtue of getting rid of reporting such as that needed for the Comprehensive Performance Assessment and more reporting to citizens on how ther money is spent. OK but we do need to report on the impact on public services, the jobs lost, the impact on the wider economy, the health and social impact of cuts, the loss of public facilities. The Conservatives and their Lib Dem henchmen should not be allowed off the hook for their actions.

They are accountable too!


1 comment:

  1. Have a look at this book about what Pickles got up to when he was the leader of Bradford council:

    He's got form.