Chris White writes: trust me – this really is going to hurt

We all knew there would be cuts and some have recently received rather a high profile (and yes – I do condemn the outcome of the tuition fees march).

Local government rarely gets sympathetic headlines at the best of times but it has done extraordinarily badly in the Comprehensive Spending Review – and without much media interest.

Local government will receive cuts in grant of 28%, compared with the 19% in other ‘unprotected’ departments (ie departments other than education and health). Local communities will also see 20% cuts in police funding and 25% cuts in fire and rescue.

On top of the simple problem of severity, the cuts are front-loaded – something we were told would not happen and anyway distinct from what is being inflicted on other departments.

The Local Government Association was expecting a funding gap in year one of £4.5 billion. The outturn was a staggering £6.5bn.

For individual local authorities, the situation could be substantially worse than the worrying average. For some of those councils in receipt of the Working Neighbourhoods Fund, to be discontinued at the end of March, there is the prospect of an additional immediate loss of grant of £10 million.

As the LGA says: ‘There is a real risk that to be able to cut their budgets by this much this quickly, local authorities will have no choice but to take decisions that would have an impact on local services and not provide value for money.’

Bluntly it takes time to reorganise: to plan for redundancies, to fund redundancies, to sell buildings and consolidate departments – even councils.

What now?

First of all the Government needs as quickly as possible to clarify the level of cuts per council. At this point, the figures may not be available until December – far too late for sensible absorption.

Second: councils will have to think more radically than ever before. It is not good enough to say that there will some back office reorganisation. There needs to be front office consolidation: this means district councils merging all or the greater part of their delivery functions. It could even mean counties and districts merging functions as well (never easy, but the alternative is worse).

The third issue is political.

It was amusing to watch Eric Pickles issuing edicts about twin bins and council publicity, based on stuff he had read in the Daily Mail.

It was rather less amusing to see him abolishing the Audit Commission without thinking through the consequences.

But he really has played an appalling hand in protecting local communities from cuts. If the Coalition is to be a success it is time he was moved on.

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30 Comments

  • @Andrew Tennant

    “Bring it on”? Will that be your response to the elderly widow, who happens to suffer from dementia, who will see the support she needs,and currently receives, being cut? Will it be your response to the young disabled male who will see cuts in the support he needs, and currently receives, that enable him to live as independent a life as possible?

    I could go on, but I fear your answer to all will be yes.

  • vince thurnell 11th Nov '10 - 4:12pm

    Andrew, lets hope you get your wish then. You never know , your wish might become an even more exciting adventure if your one of the ones that through no fault of theirs ends up on the scrapheap. You wouldnt be the first to cheer the thought of getting rid of the wasters only to find that their in the eyes of their superiors they were one of the wasters.

  • Some Tory councils as well judging from the proposals coming from Norfolk County Council. I understand that Conservative Croydon Council got given a public dressing down for cutting the voluntary sector and expanding there glossy magazine at an London Councils event last weekend.

  • vince thurnell 11th Nov '10 - 4:19pm

    Andrew, nice to see that the only person you’re concerned about is yourself, spoken like a true tory oh sorry Lib Dem.

  • Andrew Tennant
    As a council employee, under threat of redundancy, there are plentiful savings to be made and far too much comfort, complacency and inefficiency in how things operate compared to the private sector. Bring it on.

    WOW! I wish I had your confidence, I obviously do not know your personal circumstances but I’m guessing you do not have a mortgage and your home is fully paid for, you don’t have the responsibility of young children or your supremely confident of finding another job very quickly. not a small feat in times of mass unemployment, but still, hats off to you, because if I were in you and the above does not apply, I would be scared witless, I certainly wouldn’t be saying “bring it on”
    I do agree there is a great deal of inefficiency in the public sector and measures do need to be taken but I do wish these measures weren’t Idealogical driven.

  • Here we have a LibDem councillor warning of how painful the results of the CSR will be for local services, and yet some still want to put the blame for this on Labour. I too hope you get your wish. It couldn’t happen to anyone more appropriate.

  • “I don’t fear redundancy because I have adequate marketable skills.”

    You and 500,000 others… good luck with that

  • Chris Riley 11th Nov '10 - 4:34pm

    @Andrew

    Those skills don’t include the common sense not to post frequently on a public website asking for your colleagues to be sacked during working hours, though, do they?

  • Mike(The Labour one) 11th Nov '10 - 4:53pm

    Never mind everyone, Andrew Tennant will probably be okay, you can go back to what you were doing. What’s that 500,000 jobs going? Aye but Andrew Tennant will have one of the ones that are left, so there’s no need to worry.

  • Anthony Aloysius St 11th Nov '10 - 4:56pm

    “fortunately I know there will always be agency work to plug any stop gap; I am asked and turn it down on a regular basis.”

    How nice for you.

    But you know there was a time when Liberal Democrats gave some consideration to the plight of those not so fortunate as to be fighting off job offers. Not any more, it seems. Some of the people shrilly cheering on these cuts would make Thatcher look compassionate.

  • Andrew Tennant,

    In my local authority, I am hearing complaints that the outssource companies are not providing value for money. These include the ALMO, and others providing services I would rather not specify for fear of breaching confidentiality.

    I imagine you will end up in the Tory Party along with Clegg. I guess the absence of widespread revolt in our party is lulling you into a false sense of security that enables you to be so arrogant and smug in the face of impending misery for so many. We’re bottling it up, that’s what we’re doing. Just wait till the cork pops.

  • Better go anony 11th Nov '10 - 6:32pm

    “If a private business ran like most authorities they’d almost certainly go bust.”

    Doubt it. Small private businesses are certainly incentivised by the fear of bankruptcy, but they can be horribly inefficient all the same, due to lack of competencies. Big private businesses these days are often dinosaurs which survive by virtue of sheer size rather than competitive excellence. This four legs good, two legs bad, private good, public bad attitude is pure dogma. Nothing else. Oh, and since I work in a privatised industry, I’ve seen both sides. Certainly the public corporation was a lot worse for complacency. However, the privatised alternative wins on arrogant stupidity!

  • I once worked for a private company which brought in an employee from a branch in a different part of the country, put her up in a hotel for two nights, and got her to stick labels on furniture. If a LA diod something like that the District Auditor would be wanting to know why. Oh, sorry, no more Aduit Commission.

  • David Evans 11th Nov '10 - 6:50pm

    Amazing – One post 13 minutes after the article is submitted and a very important debate is changed into one about Andrew Tennant.

    The fact is Local Government is getting well done over by the Civil Service as usual. And the Lib Dems, the so-called “Party of Local Goverment” (or at least until next May), are in goverment for the first time. I wonder if some of our Ministers have even noticed what’s going on!

  • One of the biggest cultural problems that has to be addressed is that of “use it or lose it”. Given that constraint its perfectly rational for many councils to act the way they do – but the culture does need to change.

  • Andrew Tennant

    Having moved from a very profitable FTSE100 company to a Local Authority in September, I can assure you that some LAs are much more efficient than the private sector – even the bits of the private sector that are making money. One of the main reasons in my case is that the LA treats its staff with more respect and consequently staff work much harder and productivity is much higher. The private sector company treated its very well qualified staff with contempt.

  • Andrew Suffield 11th Nov '10 - 9:24pm

    You wouldnt be the first to cheer the thought of getting rid of the wasters only to find that their in the eyes of their superiors they were one of the wasters.

    Those “superiors” will find their public services all fail horribly, and promptly get unelected and replaced with people who aren’t incompetent.

    This is a good thing for everybody. It has needed doing for years. Too many councils are getting away with too much

  • There is going to be absolute carnage in Local Government due to workforce cuts and loss of services; this type of stuff is expected from the Tories but the LIB DEMS, surely not.

    I’m really worried about the knock-on effect to the economy in general and really feel this is the nail in the coffin of the LIB DEMS; the cuts simply won’t work and the party will never be forgiven or trusted by this current voting generation, it’s shame.

  • Peter Chivall 11th Nov '10 - 11:52pm

    Since the cuts are savage, and you’re right, Pickles is an ignorant clown who thinks in Daily Mail cliches, then we must insist that ‘those with the broadest shoulders bear the biggest burden’. In every authority, start all cuts at the top, and remove every 2nd officer in each tier until the requisite saving has been reached.
    This will be crude and tough in some cases, but too many Local Authorities have had experienced workers from the lower and middle ranks ‘hollowed out’, while senior ranks have been padded with Deputy this and Assistant that on inflated salaries. The traditional ‘pyramid’ structure now looks more like a mushroom!
    Let’s not have any crap about ‘losing excellent officers’. Most senior officers spend too little time in one post before chasing promotion elsewhere or else cutting and running before their latest ‘reorganisation’ goes belly up. The real knowledge and expertise in many local authorities is with experience staff in the middle admin. and front line layers.
    I’m with M.Poujade….?

  • I would like draw everyone’s attention to today’s Independent – Johann Hari: “Clegg – the man who betrayed us all”. Fabulous piece of journalism. And as a bonus all true.

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