One of life’s mysteries is how the cuts to local government spending and more importantly the way they have been distributed have been subject to little scrutiny, or so little indignation and so little transparency.
Yet for five years there has been unremitting pressure on local councils in a way that has penalised the worst off. A correlation between levels of deprivation across local authorities and the level of cuts suffered is a remarkable 0.8. To quote specific examples, Knowsley, second most deprived council area in England, has lost 33% of its spending power between 2010 and 2017. Wokingham, the least deprived has lost 3%. The pattern can be repeated for any deprived authority and any well off authority. One of the biggest gainers in the last round was Rutland. One of the biggest losers was again Knowsley.
This policy has taken £ms away from the poor generally protected the better off, and in real terms the total cuts, excluding the non-funding of pressures, are within the range of those inflicted on the Welfare Benefits system. Yet these cuts, and particularly the way they are distributed, have received scant attention. There are probably a number of reasons:
- Local government is not seen as exciting news. It just gets on with delivering day-to-day services
- Councils have probably done a good job in protecting their vociferous electorates from most of the effects
- Local government spending mainly goes to the disadvantaged and vulnerable who are not in a position to exercise their voice
- Campaigning journalism is more and more being replaced by story-telling which needs heroes and villains. This is not a tale of individual heroes and villains but of unsensational drip, drip which takes a lot of tracking. It also lacks obvious ‘visuals’ which make good TV
- Incredulity that it could be happening in such a discriminatory way, which allows journalists to labelling the raising of the issue as one of political point scoring ‘you would say that wouldn’t you’
Finally there was the shroud provided by the intellectual justification for the Governments approach: that it ‘evens out the discrimination perpetrated in favour of the poor areas by the last Labour Government’, which I have had put to me a number of times.
This year however it is different. This year the spending power in a number of poor authorities is now actually lower than in some better off authorities. For example, the spending power per head in Rutland(148th most deprived, or alternatively 4th richest of the unitary authorities) has now surpassed that of Nottingham (8th most deprived). So the ‘evening out process’ has somewhat exceeded its goal and the original justification undermined.
Moreover, this year the underlying process of incessant cuts has begun to hit even the Conservative authorities, many of who have succumbed to short term fixes offered by Eric Pickles’ Council tax freeze schemes, and who now find themselves in difficulty. Nor has the reaction of the Government been that of previous years. It has suddenly decided to listen to pleas from Local Government. But only parts of it, mainly the shire counties and the outer boroughs. And it has poured munificence upon them in the form of traditional grant.
Surrey got £24m, followed by Hampshire (£19m), Hertfordshire (£16m), Essex (£14m), West Sussex (£12m), Kent (£11m), Buckinghamshire (£9m) and Oxfordshire (£9m). Kingston on Thames one of the richest boroughs foolishly froze its council tax last year but got £1.3m in transitional grant this year. 80% of the beneficiaries are Conservative controlled.
So a number of questions need to be asked: not least what was the basis for the distribution and the model used. The original reply to my Freedom Of Information (FOI) enquiry received a response from the DCLG that there would be a delay to examine whether the release of the information was ‘in the public interest’ and the final response failed to provide the detailed spreadsheet allowing a proper assessment of the calculation, though a formulae was provided.
A further request for the spreadsheet has now been refused absolutely, as has a request for any correspondence relating to the request on the somewhat ridiculous grounds that the ‘public interest served by the disclosure of the information would be minimal beyond a small number of interested parties”. We will be appealing because first, it is usual for other parts of the settlement to be accompanied by a spreadsheet, and second only with the spreadsheet can a proper assessment be made.
The Government is patently prevaricating. But the more it does so, the more suspicions increase, that not only the dog is not barking, but that it is being deliberately muzzled.
By Councillor Graham Chapman, Deputy Leader of Nottingham City Council
Nottingham Labour in the past has had to come up with creative solutions to challenges before. We’ve helped keep Nottingham City Council focussed on delivering high quality public services and protecting the frontline as well as investing in new infrastructure projects and creating more apprenticeships whilst having lost £325 per household cut from the grant received from Central Government over the last 3 years. This compared with councils such as Windsor and Maidenhead who have gained £9 in spending power per household.
However much of the funding supporting these initiatives comes from Europe and will gradually be withdrawn.
Ultimately this is a democratic decision which we must accept. It is important above all that any divisions which have arisen in the City as a result of the campaign are mended and we move forward together to make the most of the new challenges we will face.
However, in order to soften the blow lost EU funding, the council expects the government to compensate. In addition, if there is more quantitative easing to provide stability to the economy as the Governor of the Bank of England states, it needs to be translated into spending in the regions and not simply go towards propping up the balance sheets of banks.
By Councillor Graham Chapman, Deputy Leader of Nottingham City COUncil
On the 23rd of June, Britain will be voting to decide what kind of future it wants.
Will we choose a future of co-operation or one of separation? Looking forwards or inwards? A future of jobs and trade or one of isolation and uncertainty?
Whichever side of the debate you are on what cannot be denied is this is one of the most important votes for decades.
Nottingham benefits from membership of the European Union with the EU helping fund Southglade Food Park, bringing more jobs to the City, the Old Market Square, providing the largest Public Square outside of London in the UK, Basford Hall New College, providing a quality home for education in the City.
Not only that but it’s estimated that 45% of Nottingham based exports go to other EU countries and 1 in 8 jobs are linked either directly or indirectly with trade with the EU. That’s over 26,000 people in Nottingham who are in jobs linked to exports. 12% of people in employment in the City. Surely it’s not worth the risk to potentially damage the life chances of 12% of those employed in this modern, multi-cultural City?
I’m proud of the ambition this City has, of how we’ve worked so hard to develop not just our City Centre but all of Nottingham. There’s more to be done, more jobs to be created and more opportunities to build and I fear that outside of the EU, Nottingham won’t get the same level of financial support from a national Government that will focus its funding on opportunities for the South East and London.
By Councillor Linda Woodings