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Executive Leader Cllr Brenda Warrington

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Councillor Brenda Warrington, Executive Leader of Tameside Council

Austerity Is A Choice We Can No Longer Afford

Thursday, 12 July 2018

The end of June marked the unhappy anniversary of the age of austerity, ushered in by the coalition’s Emergency Budget in 2010. Since then, the entire public sector has faced a running battle to keep vital services running on the face of wave after wave of cuts. It is a tribute to the ingenuity and capability of local authorities up and down the country that most have been able to continue delivering for their residents despite the unprecedented and worsening financial conditions. However, 2018 seems to have marked the point where the damage wrought by austerity has become impossible to dismiss.

It seems like not a day has gone by where another local authority has been forced to announce that it is facing an uphill battle to meet its financial obligations. Most notably, in January Northamptonshire County Council become the first council in two decades to effectively declare bankruptcy via the issuing of a Section 114 notice. Local Conservative MPs, instead of acknowledging their own complicity in pushing austerity, chose to line up and criticise the council and its management.

Since then, the alarm bells have started ringing in other local authorities at a slow but steady pace. Surrey Council, one of the richest local authorities in one of the richest parts of the country, is facing a funding gap of £105 million. East Sussex Council, another affluent part of the country, declared this month that it would only be able to run the most basic of services in a few years unless extra funding was provided. In Westminster, the Home of Commons Public Accounts Committee accused the government of having no idea whether the current funding framework for local government was sustainable or not, and that their complacency around the issue “beggared belief”. It should be clear now that this isn’t a case of a few badly-managed councils. This is a deep and systemic problem that will drag down everybody unless serious action is taken.

Of course, most of you don’t need me to tell you about the damage of austerity. You’ve already seen it with your own eyes. You’ve seen it in unaffordable housing. You’ve seen in schools that haven’t been given the resources they need to teach your children. You’ve seen it in the chronic underinvestment in infrastructure here in the North. But there is nowhere that it can be seen clearer than in health and social care. Every single penny raised in council tax in England last financial year is still £500 million less than councils spent in adult and children’s care alone over the same period. It’s estimated by AgeUK that up to 1 in 7 older people in England now have access to no kind of social care or support at all. That’s not just a moral outrage; it’s a crisis unfolding before our very eyes. The government’s announcement of an extra £6 billion of investment in the NHS, however welcome it may be, will mean very little if patients cannot be released from hospitals, or are forced into hospitals unnecessarily, because there is nobody in the adult social care system to look after them at home.

Make no mistake though, councils are not throwing their hands up and surrendering to fate. However difficult it may be we have found ways to deliver investment and improvement, and we’ll continue doing so whenever and however we can. At the same time, we have to acknowledge the reality that reversing eight years of austerity, and the damage it has caused, is a much bigger task than any one council can face alone. If we come together, I know that local government will be a powerful voice for saying that there is another, better way to protect vital services and the vulnerable in our communities.


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