The crisis engulfing Northamptonshire County Council demonstrates that local government has been cut to the bone by Tory austerity. Labour must step up and organise a fight back.
Tory-led Northamptonshire County Council has voted through a huge cuts budget to try and stave off an estimated £60-70 million budget shortfall in 2018-19. This comes on the back of a financial crisis in the county, including an overspend of around £21 million for the last financial year.
This slash and burn budget is being overseen by government commissioners who are being paid £1,500 per day to pick the bones clean.
The council’s plan is to provide the “legal minimum” service. Essentially this means that the council is at risk of failing to deliver its statutory duties – in particular to children at risk, the elderly, and disabled adults.
Towards a cliff edge
While there has been fierce criticism of the council’s budgetary control, it is clear that the vicious austerity within local government is the key issue.
Local government budgets have been reduced across the board by 40% since 2010. This figure, however, is only an average; the Tories have manipulated funding formulas to benefit “their” councils.
And things are going to get worse. As the Financial Times reported last summer:
“Councils in England are calling for the end of austerity, saying the UK government plans to slash their core funding 77 per cent. Between 2015 and 2020, the Revenue Support Grant will have shrunk 77p in the pound, the Local Government Association says. Almost half of all councils — 168 — will no longer receive any core central government funding in the 2019/20 budgetary year, according to the LGA.” (Financial Times, 4th July 17)
Already a number of councils are heading towards the cliff edge. Leading the pack is East Sussex. It is highly ironic that while probably every Tory election leaflet in history has claimed that they run the most efficient councils, the first council to fall is a Tory shire.
This will be no comfort, however, to the poor, vulnerable, disabled and elderly people in the county who now face a very uncertain future.
Socialist Appeal spoke to a Northamptonshire UNISON member who asked not to be named:
“As a professional my hands were tied. There’s already a very low level of services. The council has prided itself on having the lowest council tax in the country – they didn’t raise it for eight years. But they also pay the lowest council wages in the country!
“Many services are in private hands, with millions being paid to private providers. There is a huge staff turnover with a massive spend on agency workers. The council management are a bunch of dinosaurs living in the olden days.”
And all of this was the case before the latest crisis!
Time to fight back
The crisis in Northamptonshire reveals the true extent of the crisis affecting local government. But that is merely the tip of the iceberg in terms of the true human cost of Tory austerity.
There are horror stories of care workers allowed just 15 minutes per visit to elderly clients; cuts in support for young people with special needs; closures of libraries and youth services. After years of salami slicing services, communities are in an utter crisis.
Labour has to fight these cuts – not just with words, but with action. In places like Northamptonshire that means organising to fight Tory cuts and defend services. But that by itself is a merely a rear-guard action.
A heavy responsibility lies on Labour councils, who have all too often chosen to simply carry out the cuts on behalf of the Tories. Instead, Labour must fight all cuts and refuse to implement them.
Labour controls dozens of councils. It has the power to launch a local government rebellion. Such a militant anti-cuts movement, supported by strikes of local government workers, could bring down this weak and wobbly Tory government.
While the bankers were bailed out with hundreds of billions, our young people and elderly are being failed by a rotten system that only breeds austerity. An incoming Labour government must reverse all Tory cuts and implement socialist policies to provide our communities with the funds and services they need.