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Executive Leader Cllr Brenda Warrington

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Councillor Brenda Warrington, Executive Leader of Tameside Council

Stepping Back from the Brink

Monday, 17 December 2018

The start of December is usually the time when consultations begin on the Local Government Finance Settlement. While it’s definitely not as well-known as something like the Budget, within the world of local government it is one of the most important periods of the year. The reason is simple; the Local Government Finance Settlement, as the name suggests, determines how much funding local authorities will receive from the government in the next year. Plans for council budgets, decisions about spending priorities, allocation of necessary resources, all of this vital work depends on its contents.

It’s for this reason why I, along with every other council leader in England, was appalled that the announcement of this year’s Finance Settlement was delayed until the end of last week because of the ongoing Parliamentary debates on Brexit. Whatever your views on Brexit might be, surely we can agree that the day-to-day business of running and maintaining the local services that residents depend on must continue?

If I was in charge of the Finance Settlement, I would have used it to take a long, hard look at the damage that eight years of austerity has inflicted upon every local authority. Since 2010, councils all over the country have been forced to examine every budget line, squeeze the value out of every penny available to them and, when even this is no longer enough, make the hard decisions about what needs to be cut or scaled back.

For every £1 we had to spend in 2010, we now have to make do with 40p in 2018. The total “funding gap”, the difference between what we need to keep services running and the money we’ll actually receive, is estimated to reach £7.8 billion by 2025. These figures, as eye-watering as they are, don’t take into account the fact that the cuts have not fallen equally. The poorest councils have faced cuts of £228 per person compared to only £44 per person in the richest councils. Let’s forget as well that it’s not just local government; every single part of our public sector is paying the cost of austerity. Spending on police has dropped by 17% since 2010, leading to 14% less officers patrolling our streets. Our courts are running on two-thirds of staff than they used to, and violent assaults on prison guards have more than doubled. Even the United Nations has condemned the results of austerity in language you’d expect to be used to describe a country in the developing world, not the fifth-richest country on Earth.

This can’t go on. As councillors we need to do the best with whatever resources we have available for our residents, but we are also duty-bound to say when we think that enough is enough. At the very least the delayed Local Government Finance Settlement should have started the process of rolling the tide back of austerity, reversing the cuts made to local government and addressing the multi-billion funding gap we’ll soon face. I’ll be able to go into more detail once I’ve looked at the Settlement more closely, but unfortunately at first glance it seems that we’ve gotten more of the same instead.

I’ll go even further – local government has the potential to do much, much more than it is allowed to currently. We understand what our communities need and we know how to make every pound count, and we’ve seen in Greater Manchester and elsewhere how genuine devolution, with genuine funding and powers backing it up, can make a big difference to regions and area that have been overlooked for too long. We need to take action now if local government is to survive, but if the right action is taken we could not just survive, but thrive.


Posted by: Executive Leader

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