‘SMOKESCREEN FOR HUGE CUTS’ – Unions condemn ‘Localism Bill’

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‘The Localism Bill, promoting the “Big Society” concept, is a smokescreen, so that thousands of local government jobs can be axed’, the Unite union warned yesterday.

Unite, which has 250,000 members in the public sector, said that the Bill which heralds severe cuts to local authority spending, while at the same time expecting local people to run libraries, post offices and community centres, had ‘incompatible aims and was intellectually incoherent’.

Unite General Secretary-elect, Len McCluskey said: ‘It is not possible have cuts to local government, amounting to 28 per cent over four years, and then expect people and organisations in their areas suddenly to have the inclination, expertise and cash to take-over the running of local government which has taken over a century to develop the range of services it now offers.’

‘The “Big Society” is a smokescreen, a David Cameron vision of a 1950’s Britain that never existed, which actually will mean an estimated 140,000 job losses in the next year.’

He stressed: ‘This new “localism” is a façade hiding job losses; cuts for services to families and children; and funding inequalities.

‘Under the coalition’s new funding formula, wealthy Tory areas, such as Tunbridge Wells, will receive large increases and deprived areas, such as Liverpool and Sunderland, will see a swingeing cut in their grant.’

Councils worst hit over the four year settlement include Hastings, Burnley, Blackburn with Darwen, Hull City Council, Barrow-in-Furness and Hartlepool – all among the most deprived councils in the country, as well as Liverpool City Council, the most deprived local authority in England.

A handful of district councils in the south-east, including South Cambridgeshire and West Oxfordshire, two of the least deprived councils in the country, could see an increase of up to 37 per cent in their funding.

The GMB union commented on the council grant settlement for local authorities in England announced yesterday.

Brian Strutton GMB National Secretary for Public Services said: ‘The scale of cuts will be a devastating blow to council workers as local services are to be slashed.

‘There is no way the private sector will make up for the loss of these posts with three registered claimants chasing each job vacancy.

‘What a depressing Christmas for council workers who now wait to see if the axe falls on them.

‘Local Government seems to have been sacrificed on the altar of spending cuts and the whole range of council services will be dramatically slashed.

‘From what we’ve seen, support for the needy and vulnerable will be particularly hard hit including carers for the elderly and children’s social workers. So will street cleaning and refuse collection.’

Unison said that the scale of cuts spelled real danger for local communities.

It warned that the increased ‘freedom’ for local councils was simply a way for the government to push the burden of responsibility for making cuts onto councils.

Heather Wakefield, UNISON Head of Local Government, said: ‘Today is “Miserable Monday” for councils, set to be hit with some of the largest budget cuts in history.

‘This means a grim Christmas for thousands of council workers who are facing the prospect of losing their jobs next year.

‘Eric Pickles may talk about local authorities doing more with less, but the public should not be fooled; this is not possible.

‘Cuts on this scale cannot be painless. Vital local services such as libraries and day centres, are already shutting their doors.

‘Charges for others, such as home care for the elderly, and meals on wheels are on the up. After today’s announcement, this pattern will only gather pace.

Some services will be easy targets, with local authorities cherry picking only the easiest or cheapest services to provide. This will see local people who rely on difficult to provide, or expensive services, missing out on the support they need.

‘Meanwhile, the Bankers are still in line for their massive Christmas bonuses.’