More than half of councils in England are planning to slash costs by closing children’s centres, reducing support for disabled children and cutting child protection teams.
Analysis of council financing by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism looked at budget plans for the coming year published by 101 councils responsible for children’s services.
It found 57 planning to make cuts in this area. Nearly all of those are already over budget for these services this year.
It’s one of the latest indications of the deep and urgent crisis that is hitting council services.
There are many others.
After outsourcing nearly all of its services, Tory-run Northamptonshire county council is close to bankruptcy and has banned new spending.
The Times newspaper reported on Thursday that Surrey County Council, also run by the Conservatives, has “one of the worst financial shortfalls in the country” despite being Britain’s wealthiest county.
Seven of the eleven MPs in Surrey constituencies are on Theresa May’s frontbench, including chancellor Philip Hammond.
Speaking today in Preston, shadow chancellor John McDonnell said, “If you ever wanted to see the utter failure of this government, look no further than your local council. Many are struggling to maintain many basic services because they are being forced to pass on Tory cuts.
“There needs to be an urgent change of direction in local government funding in this country. We need to see an end to a situation whereby Tory governments are using local councils like human shields as they continue to drive ahead with their failed austerity agenda.”
He added, “The next Labour government will end austerity and properly fund local authorities, instead of cutting back and passing the buck like the Conservatives are doing. But we cannot afford to wait until we are in power nationally.”
That’s right. But it requires more than seeking to implement the cuts “gently”, jacking up the council tax for ordinary people, or doing deals with big business over property developments.
Labour councils should, for a start, stop attacking workers and trying to make them pay the price for the cuts.
Birmingham Labour council seems to have learned nothing from its attempt to cuts wages and conditions that led to a long strike last year by bin workers.
The council is now attacking home care workers.
Durham County Council, led by Labour, is continuing with its assault on teaching assistants’ wages. The same happened in Derby.
These are the best-known examples because there is a fightback. But there are hundreds of others where the cuts go through without a struggle.
If Labour councillors really want to protect services and the people who use them and deliver them, they have to defy the government and not make cuts.
That could begin with using borrowing powers and reserves. But it would quickly have to mean more open defiance.
No Labour council is seriously discussing such a strategy.
So what matters is resistance at the grassroots level, as we have seen in Haringey, north London.
The Tories are savaging services. Labour has to offer more than words in response.