Council services, including elderly care, children centres, parks and libraries, have suffered desperately under the weight of the previous government’s spending cuts, which amounted to an £18billion cull in real terms since 2010.
But the pain for local authorities is far from over, after the Chancellor’s autumn statement revealed they will continue to bear austerity’s greatest burden. Central government grants – the primary source of local authority funding – will be phased out entirely by 2020, leaving local councils facing a gaping black hole.
George Osborne contends that the shortfall will be made up by new measures that will devolve power to local government, representing a ‘revolution in the way we govern the country’.
These measures include allowing local authorities to control and keep 100 per cent of receipts from business rates and property sales, as well as allowing councils to raise their council tax to fund social care.
This is a red herring, and will go nowhere near replacing the funding lost from government cuts, especially for the most deprived communities. Dark days lie ahead.
We have already seen the attack on our leisure centres, libraries and youth services, because they are not seen as essential by our Conservative-led council. This has to go down as false economy. If you don’t invest in youth services, then some other budget will have to pick up the tab.
Another example of cuts not working is in councils increasingly outsourcing services.
This results in a transformation of councils, as they become commissioners of services, instead of providers.
When councils become nothing more than facilitators of private contracts, services suffer because companies are only interested in their shareholders, not the communities they serve.
This can be seen clearly by the horrific failures of Serco in our county education services.
Despite these painful cuts by central government, local councils will still have to make decisions and there is much that can be done locally to combat these cuts.
As a community, we can have our say, stand together and fight these cuts, especially to front-line services by challenging these local decisions.
With our county council declaring that it needs to make savings of £170 million over the next four years, it cannot guarantee to deliver some basic services. I think the situation is shambolic. Elected representatives are gambling with our own money.