Over ninety senior Liberal Democrat councillors have written to The Times (£) today, attacking the front-loading of local government cuts imposed by central government. The letter is as interesting for what it doesn’t say as for what it does. Despite the spin placed on the letter by the BBC this morning, the letter does not deny either the need for cuts, nor the deficit which has required them. Rather the letter argues that the cuts are too big and proceeding too quickly, and that councils could protect more frontline services and save more money in the long term if spending reductions were carried out in a more controlled manner. The senior councillors are stating publicly what many Lib Dems in local government have been muttering for a while: that councils recognise that they must play their part in reducing the national deficit and controlling spending, the speed and depth of the cuts to government grants have left local authorities with little room to manoeuvre.
The attacks have centred on the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, EricPickles, who despite his local government background is widely seen as not having put up a fight for his own departmental spending and having been too keen to offer cuts. The letter is scathing about the seeming inability of Pickles to work with local councils to promote efficiencies and minimise the impact of the cuts on vulnerable people. The Secretary of State has kept a public silence over the letter, leaving Lib Dem Communities Minister Andrew Stunell to call on the party not to fall out over “pointless debate”. Stunell said, “Whilst I fully understand the real challenges councils face I think it will be much better to direct all our energy to solving these problems rather than falling out between ourselves”. The full text of the letter is reproduced below.
Sir, Local government is playing its part in tackling the country’s deficit and advancing the Coalition’s aims of localism and the Big Society. But local, and central, government are being let down by the Communities and Local Government Secretary who appears unwilling to lead the change that’s so desperately needed. Local government has made efficiency savings of 3 per cent in each of the past eight years — in stark contrast to the runaway spending of central government under the previous administration. We’ve also been planning for further saving since the true state of the economy became apparent six months ago.
What has been delivered is a difficult cuts package across all government departments but clearly the most severe is to local government. These cuts will have an undoubted impact on all frontline council services, including care services to the vulnerable.
Rather than assist the country’s recovery by making public-sector savings in a way that can protect local economies and the frontline, the cuts are so structured that they will do the opposite. The local government settlement will take a major hit in this coming financial year and further, smaller, cuts in subsequent years. This front-loading means councils do not have the lead-in time necessary to re-engineer services on a lower-cost base and ease staff cuts without forced, expensive redundancies. Inexplicably, local government is also being denied the opportunity to spread the cost of reorganisation and downsizing over several years — at no cost to central government — which just makes even bigger in-year cuts inevitable The Secretary of State’s role should be to facilitate necessary savings while promoting the advance of localism and the Big Society. Unfortunately, Eric Pickles has felt it better to shake a stick at councillors than work with us.
Local and central government should be united in a shared purpose. Instead of chastising and denigrating local authorities through the media, the Government should deploy all its efforts to help councils minimise the impact on vulnerable communities and frontline services.
We would be delighted to discuss with the Secretary of State how we could take on the difficult challenges shared by all levels of government and would prefer to do this than continue with the gunboat diplomacy which is the current order of the day.
The signatories to the letter are: Cllr Richard Kemp, Leader, Liberal Democrat Group, Local Government Association;
Council Leaders: Cllr Carl Minns, Hull City Council; Cllr Cec Tallack, Milton Keynes; Cllr Paul Tilsley, Deputy Leader Birmingham City Council; Cllr David Faulkner. Newcastle City Council; Cllr Ian Marks, Warrington Borough Council; Cllr Virginia Gay, North Norfolk; Cllr Andrew De Freitas, North East Lincolnshire Council; Cllr Tim Carroll, South Somerset; Cllr Stuart Langhorn, Lancaster City Council; Cllr David Watts, Broxtowe BC; Cllr Tony de Vere, Vale of White Horse; Cllr Keith House, Eastleigh BC; Cllr Anne Turrell, Colchester (NOC); Cllr Sian Reid, Cambridge City; Cllr Alan Connett, Teignbridge DC; Cllr David Budd, Purbeck DC; Cllr Ann De Vecchi, Lewes DC; Cllr Dorothy Thornhill, Watford Mayor; Cllr Gerald Vernon-Jackson, Leader, Portsmouth City Council
Group Leaders: Cllr Alan Boad, Warwick DC; Cllr Gavin James, Basingstoke & Deane BC; Cllr Tom Smith-Hughes, Essex CC; Cllr Joe Abbott, South Tyneside; Cllr Roger Hayes, Bolton MBC; Cllr Peter Wilcock, Uttlesford BC; Cllr Simon McDougall, Arun DC; Cllr Brendan Haigh, Newark & Sherwood DC; Cllr Nigel Martin, Durham; Cllr Hilary Jones, Derby City Council; Cllr Linda Redhead, Halton; Cllr Sue Carpendale, Babergh DC; Cllr Iain Sharpe, Watford BC; Cllr Kathy Pollard, Suffolk CC; Cllr Maureen Rigg, Stockton; Cllr John Boyce, Oadby & Wigston BC; Cllr Andrew Smith, Chicester DC; Cllr Phil Taylor, Tewkesbury BC; Cllr Len Gates, Test Valley BC; Cllr Ruth Davis, South Gloucestershire; Cllr Tony Gillam, Gedling BC; Cllr Chris Maines, Lewisham BC; Cllr David Milsted, North Dorset DC; Cllr Roger Price, Fareham BC; Cllr Brian Greenslade, Devon CC; Cllr Ian Stewart, Cumbria CC; Cllr Richard Andrews, West Oxfordshire DC; Cllr Margaret Rowley, Wychavon DC; Cllr Ann Buckley, Havant BC; Cllr Jane Parlour, Richmondshire DC; Cllr Alan Sherwell, Aylesbury Vale DC; Cllr Graham Longley, Southend BC; Cllr Zoe Patrick, Oxfordshire CC; Cllr Brian Jeffries, East Riding of Yorkshire; Cllr Bob Sullivan, Waltham Forest BC; Cllr David Lomax, High Peak BC; Cllr Paul Coddington, Doncaster MBC; Cllr Liz Tucker, Worcestershire CC; Cllr Simon Ashley, Manchester City Council; Cllr Roger Walshe, Sevenoaks DC; Cllr John Fisher, Staffs Moorlands; Cllr Paul Morse, Norfolk CC; Cllr Jane Clark, Wealden DC; Cllr Christina Jebb, Staffordshire CC; Cllr David Walker, Charnwood BC; Cllr Noel Rippeth, Gateshead; Cllr Penny Otton, Mid Suffolk DC; Cllr Nan Farmer, Carlisle; Cllr David Foster, Blackburn with Darwen; Cllr Dr Robin Studd, Newcastle under Lyme; Cllr Peter Chegwyn, Gosport BC; Cllr Richard Sharp, Woking BC; Cllr Mary Baldwin, Bucks CC; Cllr Jerry Roodhouse, Warwickshire CC; Cllr David Neighbour, Hart DC; Cllr Arthur Preece, Hartlepool BC; Cllr Nigel Hartin, Shropshire CC; Cllr David Neve, Tunbridge Wells BC; Cllr Geoff Welsh, Blaby DC; Cllr Roger Kutchinsky, Hertsmere BC; Cllr Ross Henley, Taunton Deane BC; Cllr Jack Cohen, Barnet BC; Cllr Julie Morris, Epsom & Ewell; Cllr Terry Stacy, Islington BC; Cllr Alex Perkins, Canterbury City; Cllr Geoff Chamberlain, East Devon DC; Cllr David Fearn, Derbyshire Dales DC; Cllr Helen Dyke, Wyre Forest DC; Cllr Paul English, Craven DC; Cllr Paul Elgood, Brighton & Hove; Cllr Paul Hodgkinson, Cotswold DC.
Sara Bedford is an Executive Member and Portfolio Holder for Sustainability on Three Rivers District Council, which has been Lib Dem run since 1999.