THE LEADERS of England’s councils have predicted the inevitability of ‘unpalatable cutbacks’ in vital council services next year as a result of the Tories making further reductions in local authority spending.
The County Council Network yesterday announced that councils had already identified at least £1 billion of ‘savings’ made by cutting those services they are not legally bound to provide in order to plug a shortfall in funding of £1.5 billion by 2020.
But now they are warning that the ‘worst is yet to come’ in terms of cuts, with some councils stripping their services back to a minimum ‘core offer’ as government funding through the revenue support grant is cut by 60% by 2020.
Paul Carter, chairman of the County Council Network and leader of Kent County Council, said: ‘Counties will work hard to deliver the savings required, but the scope for making deliverable savings has dramatically reduced, and decisions for next year will be truly unpalatable if we are to fulfil our statutory duties.’ He added: ‘Without additional resources, the worst is yet to come.’
The County Council Network, which represents 36 larger authorities in England, surveyed its members about the cuts they planned for next year. 58% of councils reported that cuts would be made to highways and transport, 47% were cutting libraries, 45% said early years and youth clubs, 44% ear-marked public health services, while 36% said they would be cutting children’s services.
The CCN finance spokesman, Nick Rushton, said bluntly: ‘There is not enough money today to run vital services. Next year, there is even less from the drop in government funding.’ In fact, it will be worse than the CCN is predicting as the Public Accounts Committee issued a damning report last month warning that these councils face not a £1.5 billion but a £5 billion shortfall by 2020.
The PAC report warned that councils which control social care for children, working-age and elderly adults as well as services such as libraries are going to go bankrupt in the very near future.
Last month, Tory-run Northampton council effectively declared itself bankrupt resulting in the government sending in ‘enforcers’ (paid £1,500 a day for the job) to force through the most savage cuts inflicted yet. These cuts mean the closure of 23 libraries, rubbish collections and road maintenance cut to the barest minimum and hundreds of council workers sacked, while vital children’s services were simply axed to make £70 million of savings.
Northampton is just the beginning. Tory-run Somerset and East Sussex councils have rubber-stamped funding cuts in order to keep within their present yearly budget and it is estimated that a further 20 councils are at immediate risk of following Northampton into bankruptcy. From 2010, the Tories have inflicted massive austerity cuts of over £12 billion to council funding, cuts the Tories insisted were necessary to pay off the national debt run up bailing out the banks from ruin after the 2008 banking crash.
Local councils are then left to implement the cuts to services, cuts that hit the young, the sick and the elderly, forcing the most vulnerable to pay for the banking crisis while thousands of council workers face the sack. This war by the Tories on council services must be fought by the trade unions. The cuts are not inevitable. They can and must be stopped, and cutting governments can and must be beaten.
The way to stop the cuts is for the trade unions to unite with tenants and all workers and all sections of the middle class to form Councils of Action to refuse to carry out any of the cuts and to keep the vital services going. A national movement to defeat the cuts based on the unity of the trade unions and the service users in Councils of Action will then have the strength to force the TUC to call an indefinite general strike until the cutting government is removed and replaced by a workers government.
This will extend and develop all of the much needed services by nationalising the banks and the major industries without compensation, thus freeing billions to save and develop the services. Fight the cuts. Form Councils of Action! Bring Down the Tories! Forward to a Workers Government!