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Who's to blame for town hall cuts?

Nick Robinson | 21:36 UK time, Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Who's to blame for town hall cuts - the government or the councils? That's the debate which will rage from now until local election day.

At Prime Minister's Questions David Cameron highlighted Labour-controlled Manchester, accusing it of making politically motivated cuts hours after I attended the council's executive which claimed that it had suffered politically motivated cuts in government grants.

Ministers have highlighted the pay of Manchester's chief executive - £230,000 a year - and its recent decision to spend £150,000 (half of it from EU funds) on street art.

Compare that, ministers say, with frugal Tory Trafford next door.

Manchester, however, points to cuts in government support for the most deprived areas - in particular, the 35% or £12.6m cut in their Supporting People Grant whilst Trafford enjoyed a 4%, or £500,000, increase.

Today - having met with both council's leaders and executives - I have tried to make sense of the comparison.

The figures show that Manchester has much greater needs than Trafford. It receives much more public money, spends much more and is now having to cut much more.

It is a matter of political judgement whether the story is one of Manchester spending too much or government cutting too much. Some may believe the answer is both.

Here are the figures both councils gave me:

Manchester, ranked the country's 4th most deprived area, has an annual budget of approximately £620m excluding schools, equivalent to £840 per person. It is making cuts of £109m and an estimated 2,000 of its approximately 10,000 staff could lose their jobs.

Trafford, ranked the country's 203rd most deprived area, has a budget of about £230m, equivalent to £420 per person. It is making cuts of £22m and is set to cut 150 jobs this year.

What struck me most today was that the row in Westminster about Manchester and Trafford is much louder and more intemperate than it is on the ground.

The council's leaders respect one another and co-operate. The council's officials work closely together and senior figures have moved from one to the other.

Indeed, all 10 Greater Manchester authorities are already quietly working on sharing back office functions and carrying out their procurement together saving many millions of pounds.


Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    The truth, if we are looking for it, is that the cuts are disproportionally affecting those areas that spend the most on public services. These areas are also the poorest areas, hence the public investment in the first place.

    The Coalition maintains that the reason these areas have been funded by the Labour party is due to political manipulation. Or it could be simply that these areas do not get enough investment from the private sector which is why the state steps in.

    Either way, it is the poorest communities that will suffer . . . as usual.

  • Comment number 2.

    Absolutely, Nick.

  • Comment number 3.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 4.

    Deprivation is whatever the government of the day decides but given the business rates that Manchester City Centre must generate and it's small geographic area, costs of providing services should be low.

    By comparison rural areas have few services , spend loads on transport and providing services to scattered populations yet are never classed as deprived

  • Comment number 5.

    So nothing new then. Local councils trying to get on and do their best for their local constituents while getting lectured at by central government.

    So much for the new politics of Cameron and co.

    Pickles should be shouting from the rooftops for people to get off their lazy behinds and vote in council elections - thats how to make things more accountable. 30-40% average turnouts is pitiful. Stop hassling councils trying to get by with crass soundbites about waste and encourage people to exercise their democratic rights and responsibilities.

  • Comment number 6.

    It is a striking paradox that at the core of this BS (and I use the initials quite deliberately) is the idea that local communities understand best how to do things; central government must listen to them; government does not have all the answers. And yet, as soon as a local community like Liverpool has said “Erm… You want us to do what with no money?” it is dismissed by central government as political posturing . When Manchester City Council makes the cuts required, government steps in and says MCC got it wrong.

    Cameron held up the example of Hammersmith & Fulham, Kensington and Westminster councils merging into a super-council as the sensible way to go forward. I thought the whole point of this BS was localism. So, how exactly is the merging of councils the right way to go forward to achieve this? Maybe all the councils should merge together – massive savings to be had there! Oh wait – that is called central government.

    Read the full article here: Already tired of Cameron's BS

  • Comment number 7.

    Who's to blame for town hall cuts?

    'No one' ... as same New Old New Labour used to say repeatedly at every piece of 'alternative news' ... its a 'lesson learned'.

  • Comment number 8.

    My view on this is make very sure you do not believe a single word that Cameron says..he has set out on an ideological path that requires him to demolish the public sector to let his rich mates cherry pick the remnants that they can profit on and the rest will be allowed to wither away..Cameron is a supercilious rich boy and if you watch him and Osborn together you can see the rich boy smirks at any suggestion they are wrong

  • Comment number 9.

    Of course Manchester must take responsibility for how it chooses the cuts but there is no doubt that the level and the urgency (front loading) of the slashing of the central grant is entirely the in the government's court. Pickles knows he is being disengenuous about the cuts because it is unrealistic for an organisation to find savings of the required magnitude in a few months. Sharing services can take years to bed down.
    Focusing on chief executives pay (which has like the private sector counter parts become out of kilter with responsibility and performance) is meaningless in terms of compensating for the cuts in grant and it is notable that Pickles is doing nothing about the absurd pay of some incumbants.
    A chief executive who partially retired at 50 to draw a pension at a cost of £100K to taxpayers works for a solid Tory party controlled council nowhere near Manchester but quite close to Grant Shaps - one of the Pickles ministerial storm troopers.
    One of the highest paid CE's can be found in Tory Hertfordshire which not long back lost £28M in the Icelandic bank scandal.

  • Comment number 10.

    Sounds like local government is behaving a lot better than central government here then, Nick, would that be fair comment?

    So what can we do (?) to put a rocket up Cameron (I guess) is the obvious question.

    I have a couple of ideas but they can save till tomorrow.

  • Comment number 11.

    It is about time you looked into the budgets of these councils and see what they are spending their/ our money on. I can assure you it is not what you would expect!
    Most of the CE's are well outside their area of capability and being paid very well not to deliver. It is about time we got the service we are paying for and deserve.

  • Comment number 12.

    They're all to blame...!

    The Government isn't really taking the Councils by the scruff of the neck and giving them a really good shake. They're just told to make cuts and are left to sort themselves out, which is asking for trouble ...

    Councils I suspect, well some of them at least, are guilty of using every trick in the book to sacrifice front-line services so that the managers can keep their jobs, plush offices, high salaries and fat pensions.

    Taken to the extreme, we'll eventually be paying thousands in Council Tax every year, to support an army of bureaucrats who are only administering themselves, as there are no front-line services left.

    Remember the old adage, "Physician Heal Thyself"

    "Bureacrat cut thyself" is the modern equivalent...!

  • Comment number 13.

    Not so many years ago lcoal authority & central government pay was largely negotiated centrally. But politicians decided that they could (a) save money by decentralising the pay bargaining process and (b) improve management by opening up senior jobs in local authorities & central government to the private sector. In order to attract the right sort of private sector people, salaries have been pushed upwards, with no central restraint...and elected members in local authorities appear to have gone along with this. This isn't a political point. Though the original changes came under a Conservative Government, Labour followed them up - and inflated salaries have occurred in local authorities of any political persuasion. If you want to point the finger at anyone - point it at HM Treasury which have pressed for (a) and (b) above without ever thinking hard enough about the consequences. (But where do Treasury officials go when they've become time-expired - the City!)

  • Comment number 14.

    Mr Cameron, once a spin doctor always a spin doctor.

  • Comment number 15.

    All the attention given by Pickles and the Cameron government to Local Govt chied executive' pay is a smokescreen to diffuse the truth that central government cuts (front end loaded to protect the run up to ther next general election, are hitting the poorest local government areas the most.
    The greater the subventions from local government the greater the cut.
    People who are well off don't need help from various support groups, which often rely on volunteers, as per the Big Society, but they are about to have their funding withdrawn or at least cut substantially.

  • Comment number 16.

    I cannot believe, after what I have seen over the last few years from Nick that anyone can believe he is a "tory mouthpiece" - he works for the BBC for God's sake, which means he would not have risen above tea boy if he had supported anyone but the Labour party!

  • Comment number 17.

    Has any council suggested people paying more council tax to save local facilities? Or extra local tax for specific things like they do in the US?

    Protesters seem to want no cuts but have no answers of how to pay for the services they want. Government cuts to councils have been made. So give alternatives, say what CAN be cut to save what you want. But you can't have everything!

  • Comment number 18.

    opaqueentity #17.

    it's obvious you didn't watch Channel4 News (yesterday 1900h); a large (and rising) number of working poor households relying on food banks and other hand-outs in spite of having at least one income. many people simply haven't any disposable income after paying rent and other necessities. and the worst thing is that we're already 'on the brink' even though most of the ConDem(n)s changes haven filtered through yet.

  • Comment number 19.

    The truth is that they are all to blame in that instead of having central and local government working together they are competing with each other.

    If David Cameron wanted to protect specific local services he could have ring-fenced parts of the grant to local authorities but he didn't because he wanted local authorities to make the cuts and take the blame.

    Even in a national crisis it's still all about the blame game and scoring points over your political adversaries, which is both annoying and sad, not to mention a complete waste of time and money.

    Manchester does have great needs which is why all the more the money should be spent wisely and give value for money.Clearly it does not.Trafford has less needs but is being and has been more prudent for years.

    Maybe the simple answer is to introduce a national pay scale for councillors, council leaders etc and limit expenses to certain items, with full receipts of course. In that way the competition between authorities is reduced as employees know that wherever they go the pay is the same.

    Mind you, I'd also have to argue the same case for MPs' pay and Euro MPs' pay are they too are clearly overpaid and overindulged.Given the number of errors they make plus the cover-ups they are neither cost-efficient or effective.

    It would be very interesting if some low-paid individual came up with better plans and strategies than all our highly paid experts and leaders simply because he/she wasn't trying to maintain a self-interested lifestyle of high salary,pension and expenses all at the expense of the taxpayer.It would put an end to the myth that the highest pay brings the best candidates.

    For what it's worth, I don't think Richard Leese, Manchester's council leader is going to reduce his salary no matter what public pressure is placed upon him.The big problem for Manchester council tax paxers is that if he is forced out he will go with a golden goodbye and they will have to fund it.

    We definitely do need to see a better quality of national and local management in this country preferably by patriots who put the country and its people before themselves.

  • Comment number 20.

    The council here has wasted 16 million quid on a brand new school, opened three years ago, that's closing this year - not enough pupils. They spent a hundred thousand pounds last week on new office chairs. They employ three backroom staff for every 'front line' worker. They're cutting back on librarians, while stil recruiting 'reading development outreach facilitators', and managers, managers, managers like you wouldnt' believe....

    Tory council.

    It makes no odds - ALL councils treat our money, as their money, and fritter it away. The only way to make them stop is to raise ALL local money locally - stop the govt grant - and have annual council elections. Oh, and a poll tax...

  • Comment number 21.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 22.

    If my memory serves me right, Gordon Brown had exactly the same problem with Councils towards the end of his time in Government. I seem to remember he said there would have to be cuts to their budgets, saying that Councils had enjoyed a 40% increase over the last 10 years. The Councils even then, were saying it could not be afforded and there would be unrest. Therefore, Labour would also have been making cuts. Which don't get me wrong, I think would have been very sensible.

    I also believe Nicks figures may be incorrect for Manchester Council, I thought they were getting a transitional grant which would make the cuts actually 8.9%, I could be wrong of course. It is pretty obvious that the more you spend the more you will have to cut, unless you would like to see Councils who spend less disproportionally affected just because they spend less. Manchester Councils, to my mind, waste a good deal of money and should easily be able to find these savings with cuts other than to front-line services.

    Of course Council leaders work well together, they are in the same business and share the same self interest and high salary. I don't think anyone has suggested any different. However, there is no doubt whatsoever that a lot of politics is being played out behind closed doors and a lot of misleading figures for cuts presented, in my opinion. There is also no doubt that chief Executives in Councils have been riding the gravy train for far too long. The private sector has made huge sacrifies over this recession, it is now time for the public sector to be pulled into line also. I hope Pickles has made absolutely sure that his cap on Councils ensures they cannot recoup money back by increasing the Council tax significantly. Hopefully, Pickles has it in mind to introduce a new system after the cuts, one which is much more accountable to the public. This cannot come soon soon enough. I would have thought the public was tired of putting up with their money being wasted to provide poor services and fat salaries for pen pushers in Councils. It seems, however, yet again, that if it is the Coalition doing the cuts, according to many it has to be wrong.


  • Comment number 23.

    I haven't seen any analysis of how the adjustments to the grants were calculated but having seen the results of similar types of activities in the past by both Labour and Tory governments I am certain that a) there will have been flaws in the assumptions underpinning the calculations and b) that in a budget of over £600m there will be substantial waste (but not £109m of it) and c) very few organisations bother to do something about waste until they are forced to do so.

    Sometimes in the real world there are no good solutions, just better compromises.

  • Comment number 24.

    Well done local councils for working together regardless of political affiliation. If they have been overspending on unnecessaries then I'm sure the local newspapers will pick them up on it and they'll be punished at the next election.

  • Comment number 25.

    Who's to blame for town hall cuts?

    Gordon Brown and Ed Balls.

    Anyone seen Brown since last May?

  • Comment number 26.

    Manchester, ranked the country's 4th most deprived area, has an annual budget of approximately £620m excluding schools, equivalent to £840 per person. It is making cuts of £109m and an estimated 2,000 of its approximately 10,000 staff could lose their jobs.
    -----------------------------------------------------------------------

    Fourth most deprived area?

    What, the whole city?

    Considering its near as dammit taken over from Birmingham as the country's second city?

    And its the fourth most deprived? Are you serious?

    By what measurement, Nick??

    Anyone?

  • Comment number 27.

    Cant help thinking that we're not exactly comparing apples with apples here. Need to go away and find out how big Trafford and Manchester are, what exactly they're responsible for, but I'm getting the gnawing feeling we're not comparing like with like, Nick....

  • Comment number 28.

    17, 19#

    Good points.

    13#

    More hysterical inaccurate prejudice. Quelle Surprise.....

  • Comment number 29.

    Knowsley Council has decided to cut its costs, not its services, but this is not headline news because they're not making a big anti-government fuss.
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-merseyside-12488419

  • Comment number 30.

    newsbound 19

    I am not sure that is true actually. I thought the agreement between Councils and Government, in exchange for their co-operation, was that they should be allowed to make the cuts as they see fit. The reason given is that they understand the local area much better than Government. It would not serve Cameron very well if Conservitive Councils happened to cut the wrong projects, if it was politically motivated, as you suggest.

    I do however, as I have said before, think some kind of guidance of what should be cut and what should not is necessary.

  • Comment number 31.

    Fubar Saunders, of course it's not like for like, Manchester is one of the largest cities in the country with the associated area's of deprivation, joblessness, and so forth, while Trafford is a sizeable chunk of Manchesters suburbs, containing one of Europes largest industrial estates, one of Britain's largest shopping malls and one of it's biggest football clubs, all of which I would guess make a pretty big contribution to Trafford's coffers through business rates and tourism which are then used to service a borough that is largely affluent middle class.

    That is more or less the pattern, the large city councils with the highest population density, unemployment rates that will inevitably spend more money, are taking the biggest hit while the suburbs and shires get gentle nudges by comparison. I assume you can see which are traditionally Labour councils and which are traditionally Conservative?

  • Comment number 32.

    18. At 02:08am on 17 Feb 2011, jr4412 wrote:
    many people simply haven't any disposable income after paying rent and other necessities. and the worst thing is that we're already 'on the brink' even though most of the ConDem(n)s changes haven filtered through yet.
    =========================================================================
    Try non of them yet, what we have now is the legacy of the last goverment. But we don't want to hear that do we. The Councils under Nu Labour grew out of all proportion irrespective of which party was leading them. They are now unwieldy bureaucratic monstrosities that provide services poorly and offer little in the way of value for money. The more research I have done the more angry I am getting. I can't believe how bad they are at every stage of offering the services to their clients, "US" and the fact that they treat us with such utter contempt. Try raising an issue, the fact is that unless there is an election due very few councilors will even bother with you unless there is something in it for them. It is the same way for the cuts they are now announcing they are all headline grabbers and in the main will offer little return in the form of savings. However closing a public Loo or getting rid of crossing person (Lollypop to the majority of us) will not save that much but it shows how far they have to go, however when you look into their spend you will see a significant number on £110k and over, you will see pet projects that offer little in the way to the majority but are good to wheel out to the press when a good news story is needed.

    When a council can spend £150k on street art and send it's employees on comedy courses or sending them on oversea jaunts while cutting front line services you have to ask questions. With a crossing person costing less than £3k a year the council could have paid for five of them for ten years rather than a multi colored Murial which looked more like graffiti than graffiti. On overseas trip could have kept a public loo open for a year. Etc. Etc. Etc. Etc. Etc. Etc. Etc. Etc. Etc. Etc. Etc. Etc. Etc. Etc. Etc. Etc. Etc. Etc. Etc. Etc. Etc. Etc. Etc. Etc. Etc. Etc. Etc. Etc. Etc. Etc. Etc. Etc. Etc. Etc. Etc. Etc. Etc. Etc. Etc. Etc. Etc. Etc. Etc. Etc. Etc. Etc. Etc. Etc. Etc. Etc. Etc. Etc. Etc. Etc. Etc. Etc. Etc. Etc. Etc. Etc. Etc. Etc. Etc. Etc. Etc. Etc. Etc. Etc. Etc. Etc. Etc. Etc. Etc. Etc. Etc. Etc. Etc. Etc. Etc. Etc. Etc. Etc. Etc. Etc. Etc. Etc. Etc. Etc. Etc. Etc. Etc. Etc. Etc. Etc. Etc. Etc. Etc. Etc. Etc. Etc. Etc. Etc. Etc. Etc. Etc. Etc. Etc. Etc. Etc. Etc. Etc. Etc. Etc. Etc. Etc. Etc. Etc. Etc. Etc. Etc.

    What a waste of Etc's. you may well think but it is insignificant when you look at local government waste. Such as sending people it has just made redundant on a team building course or supporting or spending a fortune on publishing a list of what words should not be used when communicating with the public (US). Just go to your local council and ask for a copy of their accounts you will be astounded if firstly they will give you a copy and then what is inside. Start asking them for lists, lists of what organisations they support, lists of what good causes they support, lists of special projects, lists of community programmes......

    Then ask yourself what have they done for you? and when May comes around ask them when they cone knocking at your door asking for your vote. Ask, Ask, Ask, for if you do not ask you will not receive.









  • Comment number 33.

    "25. At 08:53am on 17 Feb 2011, FairandTrue wrote:
    Who's to blame for town hall cuts?

    Gordon Brown and Ed Balls.

    Anyone seen Brown since last May?"

    I understand that Mr Brown is busy on the lecture circuit and has disclosed that he's earned about 250k in the last 3 months. In addition to his MPs salary of course. Even though he hardly ever turns up to do his job. What a terrific hero of the left.

  • Comment number 34.

    I understand the need for these cuts: I suspect that there is a massive waste of public money whenever a politician, of ANY party, gets anywhere near the trough but I wonder... Does the government have a target? Will we get to a point where they will say 'OK, that's enough!' or are they just going to keep whittling away until all we're left with are the politicians in Parliament picking up their expenses?

  • Comment number 35.

    Do councilors get paid?

    They will tell you no, they just get allowances. But look at those allowances;

    Basic allowance rages from £9k to over £15k
    Meal allowance for breakfast, lunch, tea and dinner.
    Care allowance of over £400 per month.
    Millage allowance of 40p per mile.
    Allowances then for special responsibilities and committees

    The list goes on and when added up it is very easy to make a very nice living out of being a councilor with allowances of well over £40k and you can get a pension, not one of those private pensions but one of those gold edged public ones.

    Just go on your local councils web site to see what you would be entitled to if you became a councilor....

    So when they tell you they don't get paid and they are only doing it for the greater good of the community then you will have to ask your self do I believe them or not.

    I would have to say that not all councilors are out for what they can get but many see it as just a way of earning while preparing themselves for goverment where the real gravy train is.....

  • Comment number 36.

    31#

    Thanks for that. I've not been to Manchester since the 1980's and even then it was a straight in-straight out job, going on to somewhere else. I see your points though and thats what I was wondering about.

    The bit that amazes me though is how what is essentially the second city in the UK is the fourth most deprived. Something doesnt smell right about that and I'm just wondering by what measurement Nick has got this information.

    Regardless of where he got it from, I think I know why he did it. I mean, after all, of all the stats you could possibly choose about one of the biggest and most dynamic cities in the land, why would you select this statistic unless you were deliberately trying to make a subliminal political point?

  • Comment number 37.

    Speaking as a lumberjack, I am appalled about the cancellation of the
    cuts in my area.

  • Comment number 38.

    Who's to blame for cuts? Government or councils? Isn't that what's called prempting the answer? (a favoured tactic of pressure groups)

    For me there are two candidates

    (1) Those that provided the money in the first place where the money that was provided was only borrowed money

    (2) Those that spent the money where they knew that it was borrowed money and couldn't really be afforded

    So that points the finger at the last labour government and the council bodies themselves.

    nb - I'm sure this will be taken issue with, but I know from experience that a large portion (well over 50%) of activity within the average council is in fact 'waste'* - work that delivers no value to the customer and the service in question. Cuts can be made with no detriment to quality of service, in fact quality and scope of service can easily be improved. It won't happen of course, not in my lifeltime anway.

    * See http://www.systemsthinking.co.uk/home.asp for an insight

  • Comment number 39.

    "Indeed, all 10 Greater Manchester authorities are already quietly working on sharing back office functions and carrying out their procurement together saving many millions of pounds." NR

    Well done them. Any reason why they weren't saving these millions of pounds for the previous 13 years? Other than that under labour 'saving millions' wasn't seen as necessary as Brown had ended boom and bust?

    Another example of Labour's mess that needs clearing up.

  • Comment number 40.

    I pay £1,600 a year concil tax. For that I get the wheelie bins emptied on a fortnightly cycle. Great value.
    I would like to see a system that you pay for the service(s) you use, and not subsidising services for everyone else. After all when I fill the car up with petrol I do not pay for others filling up.

  • Comment number 41.

    'Indeed, all 10 Greater Manchester authorities are already quietly working on sharing back office functions and carrying out their procurement together saving many millions of pounds.'

    Really? These shared facilities are just nests for consultants, they are sponges for public money and not really very good actually. It's why they're so quiet about them!

  • Comment number 42.

    Nick - you state "Indeed, all 10 Greater Manchester authorities are already quietly working on sharing back office functions and carrying out their procurement together saving many millions of pounds."

    sounds good, and I know that other councils are doing the same. Of course it begs the question - why now? why weren't these councils doing this during the labour years, and before indeed. I suggest the answer is that you need to seriously cut someones budget before they put any effort into running things efficiently.

  • Comment number 43.

    AndyC55 @39

    Damm - you beat me to it at @42! Wonder what lefty's and saga's explanation is?

  • Comment number 44.

    As the past chair of a finance committee in a large outer London Borough the last time the Conservatives were in power in the 1980s, I hope I have some insight into the current situation.

    1. Local authority finance is VERY complex - it is based on a mishmash of overlaid policy initiatives, assessment criteria and one-off grants. This means that the bottom line budget figure for a specific authority can vary dramatically from council to council even when adjusted for size/population.

    2. Even within the budget, there is a complex set of "compartments", i.e. areas where councillors cannot move money from one element of the budget to another - this is divided by "statutory duties" - things LAs are legally required to provide - and "discretionary spending" - areas where councillors set priorities for the available resources. In addition there is "ring fenced" financing: e.g. grant money given for a specific purpose that also cannot be diverted into other areas, although the government has relaxed this to some extent, but critics argue that this opens the way for cuts in services to the vulnerable that were protected before.

    3. As most money comes from central government, councils have limited ability to raise more funds - firstly the council tax, but levels are already high in many areas - secondly charges - e.g. car parking, etc - again already high in most areas and unpopular to increase.

    4. Some councils have substantial reserves - but once spent, they're gone - others have the opposite: larege debts - but the biggest issue is their pension fund deficits, which now consume a large proportion of total revenue.

    5. In addition to thre current account, councils also have a capital account - they own assets like land etc and are able to buy and sell assets. We used this to transfer non-recurrent spending from our current budget into the capital account, then funded it by selling assets to developers in the 1980s, so avoided the grant penalty system that hammered many inner London authorities and enabled my authority to set a lower level of poll tax than neighbouring Conservative councils, even though we provided a greater range of services, e.g. nurseries at every primary school.

    6. The major element in direct funding to councils is referred to as the Block Grant, which is assessed on the basis of a very complex formula that takes into account demographics, miles of road, etc. This has been the bone of contention in that making minor tweaks to this assessment process can skew the allocation of money towards or away from certain LAs according to their profile - e.g. prioritising rural roads takes resources away from non rural areas, so the suspicion is that the government uses this to favour LAs they control at the expense of those they don't.

    7. But the situation is even more complex than this: compulsory competitive tendering was designed to open up council services to the private sector and make them cost effective. This has led to many services being contracted out, often for several years. This means that councils cannot change this element of their spending until the contract ends, so reducing the scope to make adjustments in the short term. Add in PFI funding and the long term payment commitment this involves, and there is less and less room for maneouvre.

    8. Despite all their support for local accountability, the reality is that successive governments have sliced off large parts of LA's functions - schools, housing, care services - either to make them free standing, or to farm them out to the voluntary/private sector. Now areas that LAs used to support like community arts, libraries etc are disappearing completely in some areas - Somerset has cut 100% of its arts funding.

    We are therefore left with local government pretty emasculated - cash starved, overcommitted, powerless to influence major areas of the community and now being sidestepped by the "Big Society" initiatives, but with unfunded pension commitments, debts and increasing demands from an ageing population for services, whilst being everyone's whipping boy for everything from bad bin collections to inadequate child protection services.

    Unfortunately the reality of locally elected councillors reflects the nature of society - some are very able, committed and care deeply about their communities - others fit the Groucho Marx definition:" that I wouldn't join a club that would consider me for membership" - excentrics, obsessives, arrogant or politically dogmatic who simply bring their metaphorical axes to grind at every opportunity.

    My solution?

    England is too big and county councils are too big to provide the accountability, whilst far too much power is centralised in London. District councils are too small and too financially weak to carry on with their current role.

    The answer must be to blow up Whitehall AND the abolish the county councils, then divide England back into its historic regions and rationise service delivery. This would put in place the sort of regional government that both the USA and the main countries in Europe have. Politics and service delivery would then be centred at the regional level, with the English regions operating in the same sort of way that the Welsh Assembly and Scottish Parliament do already.

    Local authorities would then be really local on the Town Council model, with major services like roads, refuse etc managed on the regional government level with all the benefits of scale and pooled management costs this would bring - health, policing and education should also be at the regional level.

    The UK Parliament would then be just that - a Parliament for UK wide issues only such as defence and foreign policy within the EU framework.

    Then the south west for example, would be free to have a different approach to agriculture, fishing or public transport than Mercia or Anglia and Northumbria could invest in its manufacturing sector, etc.

    Critically regional government should have taxraising powers as in the USA and without the Westminster party political machine dominating every facet to produce a single English policy on every aspect of government, the politics of a monolithic two party system would end.

    The granularity of Town Councils would shift power away from the political machines towards the social and economic realities and priorities of communities.

  • Comment number 45.

    Poprishchin @ 41

    Got any data on that to support these assertions?

    Not that I don't agree that these things CAN go wrong, they are only as good as their designers. And in my opinion the average level of change leadership and management at the average council is pretty low. That's the reason the consultants make so much money, not because the idea itself is flawed.

  • Comment number 46.

    #45
    I have to work with one!

  • Comment number 47.

    Richard bunning @ 44

    Very interesting read, but don't necessarily concur with your conclusions.

    (1) The points about the complexity of financing are very relevent to me - complexity always leads to waste and inefficiencies. I would personally look very hard at massively simplfying financing before starting on even considering abolishing anything.

    (2) Councils are by no means cash starved - they have loads and loads of dosh, its just they waste most of it. Neither are they overcomitted or powerless for precisely the same reason.

    Address the root causes of the problems - waste and complexity. Then you are in a position to start considering whether there is a need, or a benefit, in a complete restructure

  • Comment number 48.

    i worked in local government for over 20 years in a range of different authorities, in London & in Chichester. My expereience of Councillors is varied, many are undoubtedly hard working & doing it out of an ethos of public duty & service... others, well.. lets just say, they were not! What is clear to me though is that there are simply far too many Councillors - all political parties are desparately struggling to find people willing to do the job... certainly in Chichester the average age of councillor is well over 60. Once elected, all you have to do is to attend one meeting every 6 months & you can still claim your basic allowance.... In west Sussex, as well as the County Council, there are 7 district & borugh councils.... Nowhwere I have heard Mr Pickles talking about the substantial savings that could be made by moving to Unitary Authorities?... plenty of talk about merging back office systems... strange that.... also.. I've been tryint to get an answer from Mr Pickles about why when he took on his current job, he immediately upgraded his predecessor's ministerial car (toyota prius) to a Jaguar... seems strange as he is very keen on going round the country telling us we are living in an age of austerity & have to tighten our belts....I've e-mailed his office regularly since autumn 2010 & am yet to receive an acknowledgment, let alone a reply.... Anyone got any ideas?

  • Comment number 49.

    A prediction. The Tories and their poodles the Lib Dems will not do well in the upcoming local elections. Labour will gain control of more local authorities. Then we will see how real 'localism' is for Cameron and his
    right wing think tank friends. What's the betting that like Margaret Thatcher's manifesto of 'rolling back the power of the state they will seize more and more power for Whitehall. Localism; the Tories will hate they ever uttered the word when Labour runs local government up and down the land. Watch this space!

  • Comment number 50.

    #45

    You have my deepest sympathies. I've shared that experience in the past. But I would repeat that in my experience it has been the execution of the idea that was faulty, not necessarily the idea of sharing itself.

  • Comment number 51.

    44#

    Well, at least it appears to be a thought out solution. I'd be intrigued to see how such regional government would look to attract inward investment, either from other regions or from abroad.

    Having said that, essentially, this is the system that works already in Belgium and for the local residents, it seems to work: Not much good when it comes to policing (police forces from one commune do not tend to "give chase" across the commune border, so to speak and do not appear to co-ordinate much with each other, but this is hardly insurmountable), but otherwise, as I said, it seems to work.

    So much so that there hasnt been a proper recognisable central government over here for nearly a year and the whole country has not yet ground to a halt.

    Food for thought, Richard.

  • Comment number 52.

    49.
    And if this was to happen, oh how they would run them. Into the ground!

  • Comment number 53.

    #44 richard bunning

    Ah, now what you've just proposed there is a federalised UK; I'll let you into a little secret, the establishment don't want that as that means they lose most of the power they have already and all those lovely perks that come with it. If I remember rightly when last the idea of regional assemblies was broached that they were rejected.

    Once upon a time a federalised UK was the ultimate aim of the Liberal Democratic party; sadly they would appear to have set a side those ideals.

    The age old arguement of centralisation versus localised power; those that have that power will fight bitterly to retain it.

    Sagamix Re PL; may I suggest the late Jimmy Reid?

  • Comment number 54.

    #50
    No, the 'idea' of shared services is sound but once those 'consultants' get their claws into that public money they forget the 'idea' and rack up them costs!

  • Comment number 55.

    Most councils are not particularly wasteful. There are some spectacular exceptions to this of course.

    The council that I used to work for was recognised for its low spending and high quality of services. This council started planning for the current reduction of funding over 2 years ago and as a result, is not having to massively cut frontline services. Having said that, the council area is reasonably affluent and doesn't have many of the hugely expensive social problems that some areas have.

    The problem for many well-run councils is that the Government and their obedient friends in the media are constantly criticising councils. The barrage of criticism and sweeping generalisations - tarring all councils with the actions of the few incompetent ones - is both unfair and corrosive. Even my well-run Tory council is greatly disappointed at the likes of Eric Pickles and his media chums constantly churning out negative stories and statements about local government.

    This stream of anti-council propaganda is designed to do one thing - deflect voter unease about cuts from central Government to local councils. It's simply unfair to the many well-run councils to be subjected to this when they're having to do more with less.

  • Comment number 56.

    47

    The complexity of LAs is bad enough - once the Big Society atomises community activities/services, local GPs take over NHS purchasing and the private sector takes on the DWP Work Programme, there is going to be massive new inefficiencies because they will all have back offices, so duplication will be rife and the proportion of spending that goes on front line services will fall and this mostrous spider's web of voluntary and private provision won't be accountable to anybody.

    Rail privatisation is the model here - breaking up the monolithic British Rail simply resulted in vast numbers of new organisations each with their profit & overheads that have vastly increased the cost of running the UK's railways which are now the most expensive in Europe, having been dragged back from the edge with the collapse or RailTrack amidst calls for corporate manslaughter charges to be made. If BR had had the level of investment that has gone in since privatisation, we'd probably have the cheapest fares and lowest subsidy level now...

    We can all tell waste horror stories in local & central government - but I'd also point to similar stories of private sector organisations too - Carlton TV where Mr Cameron worked was a massive moneypit which required major cost cutting surgery to survive in the merged ITV as it is now, or what about the massive incompetence, negligence and greed of the banks that forced us all to bail them out, let alone their excessive salaries.

    So waste is not just a public sector phenomenon - it's the result of bad management, public or private. I'm sure no local councillor or manager (or company director) would deliberately support waste - the might make mistakes, they might have the wrong priorities or fail to understand the best option to take - given that we have turned local authorities into pretty powerless talking shops that are constantly reviled and their staff increasingly overstretched and/or facing redundancy, it's no surprise they are not populated with the very best people.

    We've also made the management and policy options for LAs so convoluted that I would defy most people to even begin to understand the interconnected nature of the issues councils must address and decide on, and the rapid, deep spending cuts are forcing LAs to make incredibly wasteful short term decisions simply to stay within their legal budgetary requirements.

    Your assertion that there is loads of waste in local authorities is hard to square with the year-on-year efficiency savings they have achieved compared to central government. Also you might see funding for a community arts project as "waste", whilst those that live there might see it as vital to their area.

    Local authorities are regularly assessed by the Audit Commission and they do not pull any punches, benchmarking best practice across the country and putting town halls that don't deliver in the spotlight.

    We are only going fix the problem by major reform of both central and local government and the answer is strong regional government, blow up Whitehall and make local government really local and about government not service delivery.

  • Comment number 57.

    Cambridgeshire County Council have spent £180m (so far) on a guided bus system, which is (so far) two years late, and £64m over budget. The (highly paid) council chief has now (NOW..!!) 'stepped in' and sent a 'strongly worded' letter to the contractors.
    Same county council is making £160m of cuts.
    Makes you wonder, doesn't it..?

  • Comment number 58.

    #6: spot on.

    #25. At 08:53am on 17 Feb 2011, FairandTrue wrote:
    "Who's to blame for town hall cuts? Gordon Brown and Ed Balls."

    ^ Wow! That's some amazing power and influence they have, given that Labour are no longer in government. Makes you wonder whether there's any real point to the Tories at all? (PS: nice username).

    
33. At 10:03am on 17 Feb 2011, AndyC555 wrote:
    "I understand that Mr Brown is busy on the lecture circuit and has disclosed that he's earned about 250k in the last 3 months."

    ^ Yeah, and I understand that Gideon and Dave have tons of cash stashed away in tax-free, off-shore accounts. Funny old thing perspective, innit? Something like 'tit for tat', though that could also be rhyming slang.

    On topic: I'd personally argue that yes, Richard Leese (MCC Council Leader) really IS overpaid; but that Manchester has been unfairly bashed by the cuts. And comparisons between Manchester and Trafford are bonkers: two very different places with very different demographics and social needs. Trust me, I know both places very well indeed.

  • Comment number 59.

    When the STATE fails, it's unlikely that PRIVATE FINANCE steps in, unless an opportunity to exploit avails itself! Hence the reason why some of these authorities employ so many. Personally there are argument for the latter, at least the vast majority are making an effort to the work ethic that a small minority in this country duck & dive! Mr R will you're govt friends listen? probably NOT!

  • Comment number 60.

    Councils still aren't publishing what they spend (the descriptions they publish are too vague to be able to work out what it actually relates to).

    I know that our council is wasting millions of pounds every year on pointless "improvements" that actually make things a lot worse but still cost tons of money.

    They are mind-blowingly negligent, but never get held to account.

    There needs to be some rules here by central government to stop councils from stopping front-line services when the council can easily save a lot more money instead by stopping doing things that they don't need to do (or to do them better).

    When a council says "we're going to sack all our lollipop ladies" then the government needs to look at their books in detail, and say "we're not going to let you do that, because all the people in your area are telling you not to do it. Instead why don't you bin that road scheme you're spending £20million on which doesn't benefit a single person and which only makes things worse than before?"

    Pickles needs to get much tougher. Councils across the country are burning all our money, then cutting essential services that save lives, then blaming central government, and they're doing it without even looking at how much money they're wasting.

    If Councils opened up their books properly and gave us proper details of their spending then we'd all know how much money they're really burning. But they're not doing that. Pickles needs to force them by law to detail their spending properly.

  • Comment number 61.

    "Funny old thing perspective, innit?"

    Dont tell me you've finally found some, Skol.... that would never do...

  • Comment number 62.

    The blame lies with the current Government. Their hypocrisy and cynicism is appalling. The leafy Shire's have been left largely unmolested while the poorer City Councils suffer disproportionate cuts. Doesnt take a whole lot of intellect to see why this would benefit the current Government.

    Pickles has neatly dressed up localism as a way of giving people some power. But each time local councils/people make a decision he disagrees with he is straight on the blower to the Daily Mail, along with Schapps who never lets the facts get in the way of a good story. If they truly believed in localism you'd leave local people to run their own councils and services whether Central Government liked it or not. Anyway trying to run a service in the Public Sector is quite a complex business because of the plethora of laws and guidance from National Government - none of which has been removed.

    Nothing this government says is remotely inspiring or optimistic. Their basic message is "things are bad, they will get worse, but dont worry we are all in this together". Their policies so far seem to suggest that the rich will continue getting even richer while the poor will be left to rot with fewer jobs, less money, less stability of employment, less opportunity to get educated and into skilled jobs(and mountains of debt if they attempt to) and less to aspire to.

  • Comment number 63.

    On topic:

    If anyone was in any doubt that this was political, read this. Typical hyperbole and "lets get the plebs steamed up"....

    http://menmedia.co.uk/manchestereveningnews/comment/blogs/s/1408155_sir_richard_leese_were_still_fighting_for_this_citys_future

    So, this man has been council leader since 1996 and its still one of the most deprived council areas in the country? Mind you, no great surprise: Hasnt one of the seats in Glasgow been Labour for 74 years and it's still an absolute hell-hole? Just shows how much the left give a stuff for the local populace once the votes have paid for seats on the gravy train.

    First council to declare itself "nuclear free", even before the Socialist Republic Of Islington. A northern outpost of the loony left.

    And he says this budget round has been more painful and challenging than the Deansgate bomb?

    Typical hyperbolic left. All this from a man who'se main experience in life prior to being elected as a Labour councillor was as a teacher and youth worker.

    Yeah. Really prepares you for being the top dog of one of the biggest city councils in the country....

  • Comment number 64.

    #56

    "Your assertion that there is loads of waste in local authorities is hard to square with the year-on-year efficiency savings they have achieved compared to central government. Also you might see funding for a community arts project as "waste", whilst those that live there might see it as vital to their area."

    I work in local government and would point out three things here

    - just because an efficiency saving has been claimed, doesn't automatically mean that any saving has been actually realised. I'm afriad that pushing the money around is an art form in both local and central government

    - just because they are doing better than central government (if they are) is irrelevent, central government being no sensible measurement of achievement.

    - the waste I am talking about does exist. It is where a process (any process) that only requires say three steps, actually has 20, 30, 50 even 100 steps. Typically these steps get added to the process over the years as knee jerk reactions to incidents. typically they cover multiple checking, checking of the checkers and rechecking of the checkers, all done due a culture of lack of trust and more importantly, the need to ensure that no-one has responsibility and can be called to account. Typically they also cover multiple recording of information; I've seen processes where info is copied from one form to another. Typically these processes are embedded into ICT systems, not because of faults with the systems, but because the designers were told to do it that way.

    The end result is lots of action, requiring lots of busy people, but only a small part of that action is actually delivering value to the customer, or the authority. This type of waste is endemic in many organisations (not just public sector) and it is this type of waste that can be readily cut without decreasing service (and in fact in improves service because it increases capacity). The problem is that it requires a radical culture change. Firstly you need to take the time to measure what actually happens as against what people believe happens. This is probably the hardest bit because the information you get back from such an assessment is invariably hard to swallow - I have heard of officers being brought to tears when they realise how much effort over many years they have put into activities that have in the end not helped their customers at all. Then of course you have to rectify the issue, which of course is not easy - nothing worthwhile ever is!

  • Comment number 65.

    Is this the same Manchester council that say that being told to manage their budget properly is more painful to them than the IRA bomb that went off in Manchester?

    "Since I was first elected to the council almost 27 years ago, I have seen many difficult times ...I had to deal with the aftermath of the IRA bomb. But nothing has been as difficult or as painful as the struggle we have been having over the last two months to produce a legal, balanced budget."

  • Comment number 66.

    Not sure I have one, Sighs (42). Guess it's just one of those things. Not such a focus on cutting spending when one doesn't need to cut spending. Bit banal, I know, but it's the best I can do.

    Richard (44), mmm the federal solution. I like aspects of that but wouldn't want to see too much 'competition' creepiing in - then again, Yorkshire undercuts London on tax, all the banks and hedge funds decamp to Halifax; yes why not?

    And SIN (53). Okay, Jimmy Reid. Works for me (he was very authentic, I'd say) but let me run it by Susan.

    (Susan ... Jimmy Reid as a 'proper leftie' in your view? ... he's Scottish, by the way).

  • Comment number 67.

    58. At 12:36pm on 17 Feb 2011, Skol303 wrote:
    #6: spot on.

    #25. At 08:53am on 17 Feb 2011, FairandTrue wrote:
    "Who's to blame for town hall cuts? Gordon Brown and Ed Balls."

    ^ Wow! That's some amazing power and influence they have, given that Labour are no longer in government. Makes you wonder whether there's any real point to the Tories at all? (PS: nice username).

    ================================================

    Did Gordon and Ed pay off the debt they'd built up for us when they got dumped out of office? How generous of them. Why weren't we told?

    Or do you think that a countries debt disapears when a new government takes over?

    Typical labour supporter I guess - doesn't matter how much you have to twist the evidence, before your eyes labour can do no wrong.

  • Comment number 68.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 69.

    The leafy Shire's have been left largely unmolested while the poorer City Councils suffer disproportionate cuts. Doesnt take a whole lot of intellect to see why this would benefit the current Government.
    -------------------------------------------------------------------------

    And you've just proved you havent got a lot of intellect by forgetting that over the last 13 years at least, the funding shift has been away from the shires to the City Councils far far away from them.

    But hey, no great surprise that, eh? Only half the story....

    -------------------------------------------------------------------------

    Nothing this government says is remotely inspiring or optimistic.

    Well, sorry to break it to you, after thirteen years of the last lot theres not an awful lot to be optomistic or inspiring about. Just because the turkeys didnt vote for Christmas, it didnt stop Christmas coming anyway. Or maybe you were just happier with Gordon and Co telling you that the day would never come??

  • Comment number 70.

    64

    Good points - and you're right about the need for change.

    It's interesting that you cite process rather than policy as the target for waste reduction - given the level of general government spending on management consultants and IT systems, this does rather suggest that this approach is a major cause of waste rather than a way to prevent it..

    But how did we get to this point? I'd suggest that the endless baying for council blood, the prospect of the district auditor's surcharging powers and the way town halls are political footballs has created such a defensive culture that a*se covering is now the norm. for all concerned.

    Your story is very reminiscent of both central government and large private companies - it's almost that we are now setting so such store by management appearing to be infallible that the process management and supervision this requires has become the main cause of the very mis-allocation of resources it is supposed to prevent!

    What's the answer?

    Probably to terminate the consultancy contracts, ditch the IT systems and return to managers managing and carrying the can if serious mistakes are made, whilst we need to stop kicking local government and give it a chance to sort itself out.

  • Comment number 71.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 72.

    #66 Sagamix

    "(Susan ... Jimmy Reid as a 'proper leftie' in your view? ... he's Scottish, by the way)."

    C'mon Saga, you've gone and done it now haven't you, not a chance that'll be accepted now!

    "I like aspects of that but wouldn't want to see too much 'competition' creepiing in - then again, Yorkshire undercuts London on tax, all the banks and hedge funds decamp to Halifax; yes why not?"

    You're assuming that under a UK federal system we'd have control over such things; from present experience the very thought of relinquishing even a little financial control would appear to abhor the Westminster establishment.

  • Comment number 73.

    64#

    Well worth reading a book called Systems Design For The Public Sector. Recommended.

  • Comment number 74.

    This whole debate is centered on how you choose to define "fairness".

    In cutting council budgets, the government has essentially picked an average (a mean or median) between the most affluent and deprived councils across the UK, and implemented the cuts proportionally across all councils based on this average, with some token weighting thrown in for the most deprived areas.

    This might seem "fair" to some. The question being: is it fair for poorer, more deprived areas to face the same proportion of cuts as more affluent areas, which could arguably weather the cuts more easily?

    I'd argue not; those on the right would argue otherwise.

  • Comment number 75.

    67. At 1:42pm on 17 Feb 2011, sweetAnybody wrote:

    "Typical labour supporter I guess - doesn't matter how much you have to twist the evidence, before your eyes labour can do no wrong."

    --------

    ^ I know, crazy isn't it? Who'd have thought that someone on this blog would, y'know, voice their opinion from a certain political perspective?

    I mean, you Tories are renowned for your objectivity and impartiality, right?

    Like I said, perspective is a funny old thing.

  • Comment number 76.

    This might seem "fair" to some. The question being: is it fair for poorer, more deprived areas to face the same proportion of cuts as more affluent areas, which could arguably weather the cuts more easily?
    --------------------------------------------------------------------

    All depends on your newly found perspective, doesnt it?

  • Comment number 77.

    #69,

    Blimey Saunders, you left yourself open on this one haven't you?

    Remind me - which council has to spend more money dealing with the deprived, disabled, single parents, impoverished elderly, immigrants, crackheads etc etc - a wealthy, leafy shire county or a city council? Eh?

    You've embarassed yourself accusing others of lacking intellect.

    Of course funding has shifted from shire councils to where it's actually needed during a Labour Government. That's the difference between Labour and the Tories....Labour for all its myriad faults at least try to help out those less fortunate. The Tories on the other hand just don't care - especially this current lot, their entire MO is to prop up their shire county vote to stave off annihilation at the next General Election.


    That's why the Government are cutting harder and deeper than any other country in the world - they want to bribe their core vote with tax cuts in 2015. All other countries have massive deficits, only our unmandated bunch of Tories are making such devastating, socially-divisive cuts out of ideological spite. Same old Nasty Party.

    Let's not forget that despite the most unpopular PM for decades, the deepest recession in living memory, an obedient right-wing mass media and the likes of Saunders et al peddling their lies at every opportunity, the Tories still didn't get anywhere near a working majority last year.

    Most sensible people can see through the Tories' pathetically transparent attempts to deflect blame from themselves onto local councils etc for the current wave of cuts. Never has there been a more disreputable, out of touch, arrogant, unrepresentative, disingenuous Government.

  • Comment number 78.

    75. At 2:23pm on 17 Feb 2011, Skol303 wrote:
    67. At 1:42pm on 17 Feb 2011, sweetAnybody wrote:

    "Typical labour supporter I guess - doesn't matter how much you have to twist the evidence, before your eyes labour can do no wrong."

    --------

    ^ I know, crazy isn't it? Who'd have thought that someone on this blog would, y'know, voice their opinion from a certain political perspective?

    I mean, you Tories are renowned for your objectivity and impartiality, right?

    Like I said, perspective is a funny old thing.

    ======================================

    Wouldn't call myself a tory, just someone who would like people to let the government get on with its very difficult job. Personally I'm sick of people who attack the tories for doing exactly what labour would have had to do, when the same people wouldn't have batted an eyelid in that case.

    If anything you could say I'm much more anti labour than pro-tory. Perhaps its because I consider hypocrisy as a top sin, and its endemic in left wing politics. That and the fact that far left politics is so against human nature that its always going to fail in the long run. And thirdly I've spent too much time with 'radical leftie types' who don't see the irony with painting banners with 'bring down ths system' using paint paid for by the tax payer.

    Anyway, rant over.

  • Comment number 79.

    Both local and national government is responsible for council cuts.

    National government is both failing to provide money and is setting the example by reneging on its obligations and duty of care towards the citizens it exists to serve. If they cannot even make an effort to meet their obligations, what example is set to anyone else?

    Local government is falling over itself to magnify the shortfall by cutting obvious services. I want each council to start by stating what they deem to be important enough to continue to spend money on - that's as vital information as knowing what they are thinking of cutting as I get ready to trundle round to the polling station.

    When you're skint, you start by working out what is absolutely vital, the things that you cannot do without. Next you look for the cheapest way of meeting those needs. Only then do you look at the less necessary things which you can cut out or postpone until your situation improves.

    I require that the councils - and indeed national government - go through the same process and that publically, justifying what they propose to keep as well as what they propose to cut. How else can I decide if I am in agreement, or if I need to instruct my MP to speak out against certain proposals, or how I should cast my vote in May?

  • Comment number 80.

    Tory councils are generally "leafier" than Labour ones (I know this is a slight oversimplification) and have correspondingly lower demand for council services. Comparing labour Manchester with next door Trafford requires greater explanation than simply stating which party is in chanrge in each

  • Comment number 81.

    SIN @ 72

    "C'mon Saga, you've gone and done it now haven't you, not a chance that'll be accepted now!"

    :-)

    A little test, let's call it. Switched that debate to the other thread - TRLT - so see how we get on.

    And Westminster giving up powers? No, they're never too keen. More a thing which tends to get said than get done. They did preside over devolution, though, the last Labour government. I'd say the Conservatives are more 'unionist', no?

  • Comment number 82.

    No44 Richard Bunning,
    Your thoughts on cuts and local government reform are as usual eminently sensible.
    Have you any idea what cuts are being introduced at 'The City of London Corporation'?

  • Comment number 83.

    @ 69

    The Coallition is now in power and has been for a while. They can't blame the "last lot" anymore. Their game and their decisions. If they can't generate some optimism and inspiration they should pack up their bags and potter off into the sunset to let anyone else that can take the reins.

    Unitary authorities only came into existance in 1992 in an Act overseen by Micheal Heseltine. Its hard to see that their has been a significant drain from the Shires to the new City authorities in the grants given since this time but I'd welcome the proof if you have it. Its easy to see where the cuts have fallen and my cynicism is due to the fact that the poorest and most reliant on Council Services have suffered the highest levels of cuts while the affluent have suffered the least. Thats not a fair society and punishes the poor.

    So far the coallitions decisions have seen the economy stall and stutter and all projections of growth have been downgraded.

    This government has so far seen the removal of most young peoples hopes of bettering themselves via education with the removal of all funding for education. It harps on constantly about debts being the root cause of all the evil we find ourselves in yet appears indifferent to the fact that it will shoulder generations of the future with a debt greater than my first mortgage.

    They complain about a "benefits culture" but admit that there are around 500,000 vacancies nationally and 2.5 million unemployed. Basic maths says thats not enough jobs per unemployed person. There is not much you can do about getting a job if there is not one there for you. Latest staistics say that a lot of people are being employed part time when they actually need or want to work full time. You could set up your own business but that costs money and there is precious little of that from the banks or the government currently.

    They promised that the private sector would pick up the slack when the state cut jobs. There has been precious little of that in evidence from the captains of industry that signed supporting the governments plans. So far most big companies have been ditching people not employing more. When the cuts truly hit in April I expect that unemployment will rise quite a bit and will remain high for a long time.

    We aren't turkeys and we do have the ability to vote for governments. So far they have little to offer and fewer solutions other than a race to the bottom in terms of pay, conditions and standards of living. Actually promoting growth, getting people into jobs and then having them pay taxes on their incomes would pay off the debts the country has. So far there has been little in strategies for this and lots to stp people aspiring to a better life. I guess all the turkeys will get to vote again in another few years.

 

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