Northern council cuts are Labour’s choice – it’s that straightforward!

Manchester City Hall - some rights reserved by nik_doofA New Year, same pain is the message coming from Labour Councils – mainly in the North. Looking at my old stomping ground of Levenshulme, Manchester – the cuts beggar belief. Labour’s slash and burn approach to Municipal Governance has come to the fore. Levenshulme has fought off attempts to close their swimming baths three times – now the campaigners are out in force as Labour tries again.

A letter written by the Labour Leaders of Liverpool, Sheffield and Newcastle to the Guardian Media Group interrupted my Christmas cheer. A letter pleading poverty, claiming that the cuts they ‘…had to enforce’ would lead to ‘civil unrest’. This ‘threat’ garnered great publicity, job done you would assume.

One obvious name missing from this list was Manchester. Well done, I thought – at last a degree of maturity from a council I had previously described as ‘reveling in the cuts for political gain’. This, of course was what we call a ‘lay’ year in the business – i.e. no elections so no political gain to be had. I was wrong, Labour in Manchester came out of the blocks in the New Year with a punishing announcement. Firstly, they were going to increase Council Tax by 3.7%, they refused £1.5m from the Government to freeze Council Tax and they were going to shut every community facility they had aspired to close and had to refuse because of short term political gain.

The ‘lay’ year was an opportunity for Labour to close the baths I learnt to swim in, close the library where I read my first book and close down a facility where John Leech scored the winning goal in a community football tournament years ago. You see, no community kick back – the ballot box put on hold for a year – get the bad news in now!

I quit the Lib Dems about six months ago – I have re-joined why? Because we need to campaign together against this sham Labour campaign. The Conservatives are apologists for any cuts, Labour are taking full electoral advantage – we as Lib Dems need to be a critical friend. Yes, we acknowledge that cuts need to be made but we have to ensure that we evaluate the choices available. Take Manchester as an example, close down a number of swimming pools or pay for a one-off concert by Alicia Keys? Labour’s choice? Alicia Keys. It’s baffling. Here’s another – put Council Tax up 3.7% in a sham example of political posturing or take advantage of a £1.5m grant from Government to freeze Council Tax? Labour’s choice? Put Council Tax up!

These next few months will give us all an opportunity to knock on doors, to speak to people. To let them know that Labour have had choices and which way they have gone – short term political gain or long term community gain? Labour’s choice? You’ve guessed already!

* Dave Hennigan is a Lib Dem member in Macclesfield (formerly Levenshulme)

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28 Comments

  • AlanPlatypus 18th Jan '13 - 9:12am

    It’s no surprise really. Anti-Tory feeling is so deeply ingrained in the northern working class that local Labour councils can do almost anything and blame it on the coalition. The electorate will of course fall for it in most cases.

  • Excellent news that you’re back!

  • Peter Watson 18th Jan '13 - 9:30am

    “they refused £1.5m from the Government to freeze Council Tax”
    Does seem bonkers to refuse free money. Were there any strings attached to accepting it?

  • David Thompson 18th Jan '13 - 10:02am

    I’m baffled by this story. Councils such as Manchester, Liverpool etc have had their grants cuts by a huge amount, more than a third with more to come and 80% of their spending is dictated by central government, that would be the Coalition. Not the councils, the Coalition. You have massively cut their grants, no-one else.

    As for the transitional relief, I believe it does come with significant strings attached that means the councils are better off saying no to it in the medium term.

    Each day brings more news and more articles that make sure I will never vote Lib Dem again, I’m ashamed that I did so for the past 2 general elections.

  • It’s funny how LibDem run authorities don’t target their cuts for massive political gain, in that case. And just run everything…. Better.

    And funny how national newspapers understand this when Labourites can’t.

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/comment/9772250/Is-it-really-grim-up-north.html

  • Welcome back :-)

  • former councillor 18th Jan '13 - 11:16am

    whilst i have no doubt labour are making some very bad choices (as are the tories in plenty of counties) i think you don’t understand the council tax “freeze grant”.

    so basically the government is offering councils a two year grant, equivalent to a 1% rise. after that there is no money in the base budget. so putting tax up by 3.7% allows you to have 2.7% on an ongoing basis more than you would have done, and 3.7% afterwards.

    last year was worse. it was a one year freeze, equivalent to 2%, with a referendum cap of 4%. so councils facing a dramatic reduction in their funding (and it is absolutely massive – over 30% when all is said and done for a sector that has been taking 3% year on year cuts for a decade already) had the choice of whether to take a one off grant and then have an on-going budget hole in perpertuity or put the tax up and have more money for services. at some point you have to fill that hole, which means bigger service cuts.

    i am surprised that, particularly last year, more councils have not taken the freeze grant because it creates an extra hole in your budget in future years. it is a really bad idea in terms of storing up problems for the future for many authorities to take the grant but they have done it out of convenience.

    that’s not to say that labour/ tories are making the right choices – there are plenty of examples where they are not. but given the options it’s pretty stupid not to put the tax up, especially if you can go above the 2% referendum lock as manchester and some others can.

    also i applaud the lib dem councils who are tending to manage these cuts more sensibly as a whole, but i do think it is important to realise that very few councils that run social services and social care are run by lib dems. these are the areas with the massive demographic pressures, and the big costs that are very difficult to drive down (ie the cost of placing someone in a care home etc). i do think we could be doing better than many labour/tory councils are but there’s a bit of spin going on when we declare how wonderful every lib dem council is compared to the others.

    local government has been severely hit by the cuts. i’m sure it would have been just the same under labour frankly as they weren’t going to protect it, but it is a really difficult situation for councils, especially in poorer areas, and like it or not our lib dem ministers have not done enough to protect local government before this latest settlement.

  • Kat Dadswell 18th Jan '13 - 11:23am

    Welcome back, glad to hear it

  • From Wikipedia: “After the outbreak of the Second World War on 3 September 1939, the day Britain declared war on Germany, Churchill was appointed First Lord of the Admiralty and a member of the War Cabinet, as he had been during the first part of the First World War. When they were informed, the Board of the Admiralty sent a signal to the Fleet: “Winston is back”.”

    I dearly hope Manchester Lib-Dems have sent out a signal to activists: “Hennigan is back”

  • David Thompson 18th Jan '13 - 1:44pm

    @ Simon Shaw

    I wrote my comment from memory and you are right to question me on it, I should have provided some evidence rather than rely on my memory of some press articles read a while ago.

    Hard figures for individual councils may be found in the Guardian datablog:

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/news/datablog/2012/nov/14/council-cuts-england-detailed

    Here we can see in detail how much each council is losing per head of population and also how the biggest cuts are by far targeted on Labour run councils so it is hardly a surprise that is where the biggest cuts will be felt, how could they not be?

    …and as an example heres a quote from the Liverpool Echo estimating the total cut in Liverpool grant from central government up until 2017:

    Between 2011 and 2017 it is estimated that Liverpool council will have lost 52% of its funding from central government.

    The council receives 80% of its cash in government grants, 11% from council tax receipts and generates only 9% of its budget itself through fees.

    http://www.liverpoolecho.co.uk/liverpool-news/local-news/2012/12/04/government-cuts-per-head-300-higher-in-liverpool-than-national-average-100252-32357005/#ixzz2IKmDYJC4

    Given the scale of these examples I again question why it is the councils fault when they are forced to cut services due to massive drops in central government funding. No council would be able to balance their books with such large cuts in a relatively short space of time and the need for those services growing, not falling, in part due to the ongoing car crash of our economy.

  • @Louise Shaw

    You quoted an article by Andrew Gilligan! A man made famous for not letting the facts get in the way of a good story.

  • @former councillor

    A very cogent argument and helpful contribution. Don’t have a lot of time and it would be hard to read if I go through line by line but :

    “i do think it is important to realise that very few councils that run social services and social care are run by lib dems”

    Stockport, though it has some leafy boroughs is run extremely well, and a great place to live (says a resident of a non-leafy borough)

    I think, tbh you’re putting the cart before the horse, I think very few councils are run by Lib Dems have high health and social care budgets because Lib Dems run councils better – as evidenced in the Gilligan article I linked to above – Liverpool being the prime example.

    It may be spin in your view, but it’s spin based on fact in mine. Why shouldn’t we talk up what we do well when we do it and compare negatively with Labour’s record? I believe LibDems do it better. Work from that belief and a lot of what goes on in the North West makes a lot of sense. Labour ruin things, LibDems run them, and run them well.

  • former councillor 18th Jan '13 - 2:42pm

    louise, i’m not saying that we run high cost social care services, i’m saying that most councils we run do not have that responsibility. those that we do run in two tier areas are all districts, which do not have social care, and in unitary areas we have lost most.

    that said, you are right in that there are some and where we do we are doing better, but my point is most of our councils do not have the same level of pressures which are worsened by these massive demographic pressures.

  • Yes, we’ve lost in cities which I think is what you mean. In part I think this is because of Labour’s disgraceful campaigning. That’s why I have a go in this case.

    I’m mostly interested in the NW, where we can see clear differences between Stockport and Manchester, and they are right next door to each other and have similar pressures. And clearly Stockport has an adult social care budget.

    http://www.stockport.gov.uk/services/socialcarehealth/adultsocialcare/

  • former councillor 18th Jan '13 - 3:46pm

    sure, and obviously stockport is very well run :) i certainly don’t wish to denigrate good lib dem councils or campaigners.

  • David Thompson 18th Jan '13 - 5:49pm

    @ Simon Shaw

    I answered you earlier however my reply hasn’t (yet?) been moderated and approved, possibly because there were links in there? Don’t know.

    Firstly I apologised, I should have offered some back up evidence for my claim that I was doing from memory. I then offered a link to the Guardian Datablog that detailed all of the cuts to individual councils per head of population. Councils such as Liverpool, Manchester, any Labour controlled urban councils have lost around GBP 260 per head of population, Tory councils have lost very much less. I also linked to an article in the Liverpool Echo that contained the estimate of a total of 52% of their grant from central government by 2017, the grant is 80% of the councils total income.

    Not an exhaustive list by any means but a useful illustration of the challenges being faced by many councils across England.

  • William Jones 18th Jan '13 - 8:17pm

    Second go at…welcome back, Dave!

  • Nigel Jones 20th Jan '13 - 2:33pm

    Maybe my comment is late, but we should note that David Cameron explained in 2010 that he thought it unfair that certain authorities were getting so much more grant than others (ignoring of course their actual need). Furthermore, government tends to work with percentages; so if more deprived areas were getting huge grants, then for the same percentage cut they get a much bigger cut in actual amount per head of population. The Guardian analysis works on the actual cuts, not the percentage of previous amounts.
    There is unfairness in what is happening, but there is also mismanagement by some councils, especially Labour ones. Stoke-on-Trent was running up debts before 2010, has blamed the coalition for big cuts in services and yet has decided to borrow £55m in order to build new Civic Offices, even though they moved into the present ones (with huge sums spent on making them suitable) only about 10yrs ago.

  • Dave Hennigan 21st Jan '13 - 3:28pm

    Louise – Glad to be back from my brief hiatus!

    Sheffield Rich – Labour and the Don Valley Stadium don’t have a good record at all. If memory serves me right, their wanton misuse of public funds over the World Student Games was a contributory factor in them originally losing control of the council.

    David Thompson – You say you are ‘baffled’ by this story. The article acknowledges that tough choices need to made in times of austerity. If Labour had won the GE 2010, they would have been faced with making extreme cuts to an over-bloated Local Government. Cities became too reliant on hand outs from Central Government. If you look at net spending per head, rather than net cut per head – it tells an entirely different story! It was clear that after the last GE, Labour did not want to Govern – Liam Byrne left that note – a note that may well haunt him for the rest of political career. Tough choices need to have been made, it’s taken me a while to realise that. Everything is not perfect believe me – the tuition fees debacle et al – probably the worst piece of party politics ever. That said, the pupil premium – helping end inequalities in our education system, taking poorer people out of the tax system altogether, ending child detention at Yarl’s Wood and simplifying the pension system and finally linking pensions to earning are policies directly from the Lib Dem Manifesto.

    More generally, councils are finding loophole to ensure they don’t have to have a referendum, blaming increased police, fire and waste increases. It’ll be interesting to see just how many referendums will actually take place. My guess? Hardly any.

    As for the article as a whole; the point is clear – cuts are about local choice. Take Manchester for example, playing slash and burn politics whilst spending money on vanity projects like it has gone out of fashion.

  • David Thompson 21st Jan '13 - 4:46pm

    @ Dave Hennigan – I think it is clear that I wasn’t really baffled by the story but in truth was baffled by your assertions given that the big city councils are in receipt of the biggest cuts per head of population at a time when their services are needed more than ever.

    I ‘m also unhappy to note that you to state that the big cities are too reliant on central government handouts when you know that local councils have very few revenue raising powers available to them and by far the majority of their spending is dictated by central government in the first place. The language used is terrible as well…….handouts? Really? Are we now to assume that British government funding of services in British cities paid for by taxes raised across Britain is now to be regarded as some form of welfare? Charity for the poor city folks?

  • Dave Hennigan “Liam Byrne left that note – a note that may well haunt him for the rest of political career”

    Sigh, not that old chestnut again ?!

    It was a joke – not a particularly belly-busting laugh out loud joke but a joke nevertheless. It rivals Reginal Maudling to James Callaghan witty ‘Good luck old cock….sorry to leave it in such a mess’ (see wiki for evidence) for its lack of laughability but honestly, hasn’t it been done to death by both LibDems and Tories yet ?

  • Peter Watson 21st Jan '13 - 7:23pm

    @Martin B
    I read somewhere recently that it is (or was, can’t see it happening again) some sort of running private joke in the treasury for the outgoing minister to write such a note for his successor, and that it was bad form of the coalition to publish Byrne’s note for political gain. I’ve no idea if that account is accurate though.

  • Dave Hennigan 22nd Jan '13 - 10:32am

    Martin B – Love that excuse – “It was a joke” etc.

    It would be funny if not so serious – reading through the ‘joke’, it is clear that after every Socialist Government there is mess and debts to clean up. Labour will continue to every no economic credibility whilst adopting the ‘economic crisis’ argument. Yes there was financial turbulence, but Labour spent way and above their station. They complain about privatising the NHS, yet signed numerous PFI deals that will leave Health Bosses in a financial tightrope for decades to come.

    Look at Sheffield Forgemasters, Labour in the dying days of their administration offered them a £60m, interest free loan they could not afford.

  • According to the respected municipal writer Peter Hetherington, in today’s “Guardian”, in two years time Manchester will have lost a quarter of its budget in five years, whilst in Birmingham by 2016-17 the city will have lost half of its budget. Do the writers who attack Labour-run councils for unnecessary cuts have any alternative suggestions for finding savings of this magnitude?

    To Dave Hennigan – the issue is not the necessity for cuts, it is that cities in the North, with high levels of deprivation, are suffering a much greater squeeze than better-off areas in the south. Fairness suggests that the wealthiest areas should take the greatest hit but instead the opposite is true. As for Manchester’s “vanity projects”, the only one you quote is an Alicia Keys concert – are there any more?

  • Dave Hennigan 24th Jan '13 - 11:03am

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