A vital announcement on the level of cuts that cash-strapped councils will receive next year has been shelved because of the Tory Brexit mess.
Conservative Communities secretary James Brokenshire had been due to announce the provisional Local Government Finance Settlement on Thursday 6th December. But less than 24 hours before the much-anticipated announcement the government cancelled the statement and told local authorities they would not be told about their latest budget cuts until after the key vote on Theresa May’s doomed Brexit deal next week.
Andrew Gwynne, Labour’s shadow communities secretary, said the delay was evidence that “Theresa May’s weakness has completely immobilised the government”.
“The Tories are so trapped in a crisis of their own making over their botched Brexit negotiations that they are neglecting the needs of the country,” he said.
“Having delayed the introduction of several key policies, it’s clear that the Prime Minister is in office but not in power.”
The figures announced in the funding settlement are key for local authorities, according to a Local Government Association (LGA) spokesman, who said that UK money needed for vital community services was 'running out fast'. Councils have lost almost 60p out of every £1 the last Labour government spent on local services, with the the LGA estimating that the funding gap will reach £3.2bn by next year (2019/20).
The Breaking Point campaign received a major boost today when it received the backing of Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn MP.
Labour’s leader met with a delegation of Labour council leaders to discuss how communities had been damaged by the Conservative policy of austerity in local government, and offered his support to the Breaking Point campaign.
LGA Labour group leader Cllr Nick Forbes said “I’m delighted that Jeremy is giving our campaign against austerity in local government his full backing. Jeremy has been consistent in speaking out against the damage caused by cuts to key services. Labour would do things differently, and would invest in public services that we all rely on.”
The ‘Breaking Point’ campaign petition was handed to 10 Downing Street today by a delegation led by Labour's leader in local government Cllr Nick Forbes and shadow Communities secretary Andrew Gwynne MP.
It has been confirmed as the most-signed petition of Labour councillors ever – with 5,137 signatures collected (as of Weds 17th October) in less than two weeks, equivalent to 85% of all current Labour councillors in England and Wales. It was organised by the Local Government Association (LGA) Labour Group, led by Cllr Nick Forbes, leader of the LGA Labour Group and Newcastle Council, and was handed in at 10 Downing Street on Thursday 18th October.
After almost a decade of Tory cuts to local government many councils are now facing a crisis in funding – Northamptonshire has already gone bust, and many others are now facing bankruptcy. Tory cuts to local government of over £16 billion since 2010 mean councils have lost 60p out of every £1 that the last Labour Government was spending on local government in 2010.
The cross-party Local Government Association has warned that local councils face a new round of spending cuts of £1.3bn next year, with grants slashed by 36% in 2019/20 and 168 councils receiving no central funds from government at all. The LGA has also warned that councils now face a further funding gap of £7.8 billion by 2025 just to keep services ‘standing still.
Cllr Nick Forbes, the leader of the LGA Labour Group said: “Council budgets are now at Breaking Point – and Labour councillors are delivering a powerful message to the Prime Minister and Chancellor that councils simply cannot take any more cuts. If the Budget doesn’t reverse the further cuts planned to local government for next year then there is no doubt that more councils will collapse into bankruptcy, causing devastating effects for children at risk, disabled adults, and vulnerable older people. A record number of Labour councillors have signed the Breaking Point petition in less than two weeks – an unprecedented coming together of councillors which shows the depth of anger and concern at the state of council finances. If the Prime Minister ‘s claim that ‘austerity is over’ is to have any credibility, she simply must find the money we need to stop vital services from disintegrating.”
The Breaking Point campaign has the backing of Shadow Communities and Local Government Secretary Andrew Gwynne MP, who said: “This is a fantastic campaign that has my total support. Labour councillors have come together in unprecedented numbers to send a clear warning to the Prime Minister and Chancellor that austerity is driving councils to the point of total collapse. Councils simply cannot take any more cuts. The next Labour Government will sustainably fund our councils and put an end to this crisis.”
Cllr Nick Forbes, Cllr Lib Peck, and Cllr Michael Payne wrote about Breaking Point for the Huffington Post
Austerity has had a devastating effect on local government. Although as leaders of the LGA Labour Group, we each represent very different communities of the UK – the city of Newcastle, the inner-London borough of Lambeth, and the shire districts of the East Midlands - we all share a similar experience of the dreadful way that austerity has affected the lives of our residents since 2010. Government cuts have seen over 500 children’s centres and 475 libraries close, potholes are left unfilled, and 80% of councils workers now say have no confidence in the future of local services.
Local councils were the very first target of Tory and Lib Dem austerity in 2010, with George Osborne’s ‘emergency’ budget slicing funding from programmes like Sure Start within weeks of taking office. He then returned to slash billions in funding for councils year after year, cheered on by Eric Pickles. From the very start the Conservatives have tried to use the cynical ploy of passing the blame for cuts onto councils – and particularly onto Labour councils, who were given the biggest reductions. Since 2010 an astonishing £16billion has been cut from council funding, equivalent to more than 60p from every £1. Austerity was thrown at councils with a ferocity greater than any other area of government.
So when Theresa May announced in her conference speech last month that ‘austerity is over’ many presumed that the first target of this reverse would be local government. As the biggest losers from austerity, and with many council services close to crisis, surely councils would be the first in line for new investment if austerity is over? But no - incredibly the Government is actually planning a further cut of £1.3billion next year, with grants slashed by another 36% in 2019/20 and 168 councils set to receive no central funds from government at all. With Northamptonshire already bankrupt, there is little doubt that if these planned cuts go ahead many other council budgets will be plunged into a similar crisis.
Councils are now at breaking point – which is why as Labour councillors we formed the ‘Breaking Point’ campaign, which is calling for the Government to cancel the planned cuts for next year, and to immediately invest £2billion in children’s services and £2billion in adult social care to stop these vital services for vulnerable people from collapsing. The response from Labour councillors has been overwhelming - in less than two weeks over 5,000 Labour councillors signed the petition, more than 85% of all Labour councillors in England and Wales. Many also took the time to share their own heart-breaking stories of the effects that austerity has had in their own communities. The ‘Breaking Point’ petition is now the most-signed petition of Labour councillors ever - it reveals our common strength of feeling about the need to end Tory austerity and our sense of unity in coming together to say that enough is enough.
Jeremy Corbyn has been clear that if Labour were in power we would end austerity, and we’d be re-investing in the sort of preventative services that actually save the public purse in the long run. But until a General Election is called we have no other option but to make our voices heard loud and clear to Theresa May and Chancellor Philip Hammond. So today we’re taking the campaign to the heart of government, and delivering it to 10 Downing Street, along with shadow Communities and Local Government secretary Andrew Gwynne MP, and some of our many other supporters in Parliament.
Doubtless this arrogant Government will try to dismiss our campaign as a political stunt – but that couldn’t be further from the truth. The campaign is a clear warning that local councils just cannot go on like this – if the cuts continue, vital public services that keep vulnerable children safe, provide dignity to people at the end of their lives, or offer routes out of homelessness for people with nowhere else to turn, will simply collapse. Over five thousand Labour councillors have joined together because we understand that it is our duty to speak out – but ultimately it is Theresa May and Philip Hammond’s responsibility to listen.
Cllr Nick Forbes, leader of LGA Labour Group and Newcastle City Council
Cllr Lib Peck, deputy leader LGA Labour Group and leader of Lambeth Council
Cllr Michael Payne, deputy leader LGA Labour Group and deputy leader of Gedling Council
Polly Toynbee has written about local authority cuts and the Breaking Point campaign petition in The Guardian today
With the budget barely more than a week away, the queue of desperate petitioners would stretch down Whitehall, far out of sight. If austerity is over, who’s first in line? In the battle of crises, whose need is greatest?
This morning an actual petition was handed into No 10 by one sector among those that have suffered the worst in the great state shrinkage of the last eight years – local government. Nick Forbes, leader of Newcastle city council, handed in a plea signed by all Labour local government leaders to stop the next round of cuts – a further £1.3bn due to be lopped off in April. If that axe falls again, Theresa May’s “austerity is over” conference message will be exposed as pure deceit.
Though Tory county councils have made the headlines, with Northamptonshire bankruptcy crisis and others, such as Somerset and East Sussex, teetering on the brink of going bust, it has been Labour’s northern metropolitan areas that have taken the biggest hit. Right from the start, Liverpool was cut deepest, Dorset least. Forbes says the Labour towns and cities had to tighten a tourniquet round their spending from year one, while the county councils drifted along and have only now hit a brick wall. “We’ve already been through the pain barrier. Now it’s hitting them, and they’re not prepared, after all these years of boasting that they froze their council tax rates,” he says.
As it tries to save Tory county councils, Forbes says, the government is debating ways to shift more funds towards its own: it wants “rurality” to attract more financial weighting than deprivation – which would be another shocking redistribution away from places of greatest need. Newcastle was the pilot city for rolling out universal credit. Its effects combine with the multiple cuts rolling through the city. Just one example: in 2010 Newcastle had £18m a year from government ringfenced for its 16 Sure Start children’s centres, but now its gets nothing. They are hanging on to just three hubs for family services. Here’s the result: this year the number of children in its care has risen by a staggering 20% in just one year, at horrendous human and financial cost. Forbes says: “That’s the cumulative effect of poverty, causing mental illness, domestic violence, family breakdown.”
With £16bn ripped out of council budgets, he says children’s services and social care are now collapsing. With 60p in every pound gone, far worse is to come. By 2020 all councils will lose every penny of their grant from government, left to rely just on council tax and business rates – and the poorest places can raise the least. Both these taxes are in urgent need of reform, with property still valued at 1991 rates, so that every home worth over £350,000 pays the same council tax, with no higher bands.
The chancellor’s dilemma was spelled out by the Institute for Fiscal Studies this week. Just to call a halt to the cuts planned for next year will cost him £19bn. Then there is the promised £20bn for the NHS, which again only stops things getting worse. The enormity of the swaths cut through every service means austerity – by any measure – is destined to last right through the next decade and beyond. This government always said it never intended to return to 2010 spending levels: austerity was always for ever.
Consider the need that has been created – the £12bn benefit cuts still in the pipeline or the 8% cuts to schools, despite rising pupil numbers, or the devastation caused to further education colleges. The cumulative effect of austerity rebounds mainly on to local government, left to sweep up the wreckage. And that is where the blame falls. At their conference before the 2010 election, Tory future ministers gloated that their plan was to “devolve the axe” so that councils had to do the heaviest lifting in deficit-reduction.
Politically, it was a master-stroke. Few voters understand the intricacies of local authority finance, nor which branch of officialdom is responsible for what. When they see almost 500 libraries closed or their cars and bikes hit potholes in the road, who do they blame? The council, which is responsible for their most visible services.
That’s why Labour councils hand in their petition today with very little expectation that they will be saved from the axe falling again. They expect to stay at the back of the queue – but it’s a queue for nothing anyway, as austerity goes on and on and on.
Over 30 Labour Members of Parliament received a briefing about the Breaking Point today at a meeting of the Labour Friends of Local Government, led by Cllr Richard Watts (leader, Islington Council) and Cllr Lib Peck (leader, Lambeth Council).