Tuesday, 1 July 2014

Cornwall Council in the eye of the storm of austerity

A story is doing the rounds in the press, that a Cornwall Council officer expressed the opinion that services did not need to be gold plated and that the bare minimum would do. This is the latest in the government's austerity drive, four years in and the pressure continues to fall on the smallest authorities.

Back in May the Local Government Association was warning of the consequences of all of this pressure on local councils:

Research carried out by the Local Government Association (LGA) suggests that the impact of spending reductions will start to become increasingly visible over the next two years, as councils tackle a further £10 billion cut in Government funding.
In many areas where the well of efficiency savings has run dry, councils are on the verge of a tipping point where they will not have enough money to meet all their statutory responsibilities.
Government funding given to councils to run local services will have been cut by 40 per cent by May 2015. LGA modelling, which factors in reduced funding and rising demand for adult social care, shows that money available to provide popular services like running gyms, parks, libraries and youth centres is likely to shrink by 66 per cent by the end of the decade.
Councils reaching ‘end of road' 

The key point here is statutory services, with the twin pressures of huge government cuts and a council tax freeze in the last few years by Cornwall Council, non statutory services have been hit hard. Whereas before the Conservative/ Liberal Democrat government came to power, Cornwall Council no longer provides or has greatly reduced things like public toilets, town center cctv, weed spraying, litter cleaning, public transport, upkeep of parks and a whole host of other day to day things, as well of course as thousand of jobs gone. This is because none of these things are statutory duties i.e. there is no legal obligation for the local authority to provide them. But now we are in a situation where the funds will mean that Cornwall Councillors will be faced with the choices of how to interpret statue. Expect nuanced arguments that as the quoted officer has argued that the bare minimum is within the law and services especially worryingly of health and social care will be run down.

This process will intensify and intensify and as I blogged recently all of the Westminster parties are committed to austerity. Not one of the Labour, Tory or Lib Dem leaders has ever defended local government, has ever defended the frontline of public services, or ever stated that they would like to see local government funding cuts halted or even lessened. We are in the eye of the storm, next May it is inevitable that one of the austerity parties or a combination of them, will take power and again austerity and cutting of public services will dominate. The politics of the sloping shoulders will continue and cuts won't fall hardest on Whitehall and government departments but on already hard pressed local councils....

As a postscript if you think statues will protect frontline public services and will force either local authorities or government to properly fund services to a minimum standard, you may be right but do bear in mind the Department for Communities and Local Government is doing a wholesale review on the 1294+ statutory duties...