For those of us in Local Government it is THAT time of year again. The budget process is entering the formal stages with the sadly now annual event of hundreds of council staff being issued with first stage letters informing them that their jobs are under threat in the forthcoming round of cuts. The media will be full of stories about how many jobs could go at every council.
In Barnsley as many as 300 jobs could be lost this time around, and after 2 years of very heavy cuts already, we are through the staff who were prepared to go via the voluntary process and could well be facing high numbers of compulsory redundancies.
We are midway through a four year process that will see our council budget reduce by a third, which from around £220 million means tens of millions in cuts every year. Even if we could ignore inflation across that period, which we can’t and it is rising, that is impossible to deal with without huge service reductions.
The plain fact is that we have no fewer roads to mend, no fewer bins to empty, no fewer vulnerable adults to care for and no fewer children to safeguard. We have no less responsibility for any of the things the public have come to rely on the council to provide.
In most cases we have more of these things.
It is also becoming apparent that this is only the beginning and that things are never going to return to the levels that they once were.
In a way, Councils are faced with planning their own demise.
That may sound like an overblown bit of hyperbole but it really isn’t.
According to the current forecasts, drawn from the government’s own figures, within the next ten years, local council budgets will have reduced to a point where the councils are no longer viable. The forecast is that most councils will have to spend their entire remaining budget on the costs of just Adult Social Care. In a helpful diagram, known across local government as “the graph of doom”, the rising line showing the cost of adult social care and the falling line representing council budgets meet in 2019.
That means councils will not be doing anything else. At all.
I want you to pause and think about that. No roads, no parks, no bins, no offices, no planning, no litter picking, and on and on. That, simply put, won’t be a council.
While it is hard to imagine even this government allowing things to get that far without changing course, they are still quite adamant that there will be no change to the funding policy they are pursuing. The “graph of doom” is taken from a piece of work that local government presented to national government as the start of what we expected to be a dialogue to address this forthcoming disaster. Their response was to confirm their spending plans for 2015 and beyond.
In many areas of everyday life the demise of the council will happen much sooner. Long before the projected end, many of the things people have become accustomed to will have been cut. People are already noticing the longer grass everywhere (I get a LOT of calls), community facilities are closing and disappearing, bins are emptied less often, litter picked less frequently, etc. We’ve done our bit to lessen the impact and try to maintain things as they were.
But now it is different.. We can’t just do less, cut back and part perform. Now we are stopping doing things altogether. Councils are simply having to cease providing the services that are not statutory or mandatory. And there is not much we can do to soften that blow.
In many ways we have may have done a disservice to the public by protecting them from the impact for so long. As much as it was the right thing to do, it will make the shock worse when the end finally comes.
I always wanted, as a politician, to make sure the public were awake to the sheer scale of cuts before it was too late. The truth is however, they may only wake up in time to find the councils’ are already gone.