A sign of the cuts to come?

We suspect that buried in the Chronicle this week is rather portentous Press release: a sign of what’s to come in austerity Britain.

Not that you’d notice.

In true spin doctor style, it’s hard to pin down what’s going on at all: “Cheshire East Council has put in a successful bid to run a national pilot for a new Government programme to make local services more effective and efficient,” the original Press release reads, though for “effective” you can read “cuts” and for “efficient” you can read “cuts”.

The grandly entitled “Delivering Differently in Neighbourhoods” programme — read “cuts” — has been set up to “help” local authorities “do more with less” — read “cuts” — by working with local communities and neighbourhood groups “to redesign services” — read “cut” — to meet their needs.

It goes on to say that the Government has asked “for innovative approaches” (“cuts”) that will draw “on the energy and expertise of local people” to find ways “to reduce reliance on public services” — “cuts” — and cut “waste”, the latter word being an anti-euphemism for “much valued council services,” we’d guess.

The basic gist is this: local authorities are going to need more volunteers to run stuff that’s now paid for by the public purse. The word “facilitate” doubtless comes to into it somewhere, or will do.

To explain the background: Chancellor Gideon Osborne has announced Government plans for a budget surplus in 2019-20, should the Tories get re-elected.

As per our recent explanation, that’s a surplus in revenue, not a reduction in debt.

Davey Boy Cameron has reassured voters that his chancellor’s aim will mean overall cuts in spending of 1% a year over the next four years but this is — surprise, surprise — a little misleading.

This is because while total spending cut is cut by 1%, spending in some areas is going up.

Things like the NHS, schools, pensions and benefits and all “protected”, ie, they have to go up because of inflation and other factors so can’t be cut. Or, in the case of pensioners, votes.

The same is true of the national interest payments on the money we’ve already borrowed.

This means that cuts will fall hardest on a small number of Government departments, such as the police and Home Office, and local government.

These sectors are facing cuts of not 1% but 26%; if the Government is re-elected, by the end of its second term unprotected departments will have faced cuts of up to 41%.

It’s not clear what areas the pilot scheme that Cheshire East Council is running will address, but they will be where the cuts are going to fall in the next four years.

The Press release itself is woolly, talking about “solving problems in local areas with the help of neighbourhood organisations, parishes and the voluntary sector,” which suggests grass roots cuts.

Coun Les Gilbert, Cheshire East’s Cabinet member in charge of localism, talks about “vibrant community hubs” playing “a key role” in “providing fit-for-purpose and sustainable services in the right place and at the right time”.

Local people will be encouraged to set up community interest companies to take over the delivery of some local services.

What services do you reckon will be cut? Obviously they’ll be (with all respect to people who now work in those sectors) easy for lay people to run. Libraries, day centres, youth clubs, school meals, adopting stretches of road to keep clean, that sort of thing, though this is without thinking too deeply about the actual affected services, just about the ramifications of the Press release.

None of this is making a political point: the aim of a budget surplus is in all the three “main” parties’ agendas — and it’s unlikely any will boast of running a deficit.

Labour wants to borrow more, £50bn a year, and increase the debt, as has it has done in the past, but they’re all going to cut.

We’d have asked the council but they’d probably just say it’s too early to say, which it may well be.

But this time in four or five years’ time, we guess a lot of you will be voluntarily doing jobs that councils now pay for.

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