Vicious waves of austerity are hitting English councils, and the Tories are determined to drive through their attacks.
As local authorities reel from the billions of pounds of coronavirus-associated costs, chancellor Rishi Sunak is refusing to cough up more cash.
Jobs and services are already being axed.
Mike Bird, Conservative council leader in Walsall has already suggested that because some services have been closed during the pandemic, it means they might be shut permanently.
“We are reviewing the situation at the moment but we are not planning to reopen all the libraries at the drop of a hat,” he said.
“We are looking at a phased approach. I’m a firm believer that if we haven’t used something for the past four or five months, do we really need it?”
Libraries in the west Midlands local authority have yet to reopen, but are set to have a consultation in January.
Industry body the Local Government Association said that councils are likely to suffer a £4 billion shortfall next year.
In response, councils are shutting vital services such as care homes, early years care, public transport subsidies and homelessness support services.
It will have a dramatic effect on the people who most rely on the intervention from local government.
Sunak said in his November spending review that local authorities would have an additional 4.5 percent of their budget to spend.
And he boasted last month that councils would have “access to extra billions of pounds to fund social care”.
But that money is to come directly from the pockets of ordinary people, not central government, through council tax rises.
The Office for Budget Responsibility estimated that this plan would leave people forking out an extra £1 billion a year from 2021.
And in reality, Sunak’s announcement means that councils will be allowed to raise council tax at a rate higher than inflation and on top of any rises that would already take place.
Councils will be allowed to raise their budget by 5 percent, as long as 3 percent goes towards funding adult social care.
But this measure, called the adult social care precept, isn’t new and has been in place since 2016.
And it doesn’t even work. Since being introduced in 1993, council tax has consistently risen higher than inflation, yet central and local governments continue to cut and cut.
With less funding coming from Westminster, councils are relying more and more on income from council tax. A decade ago, councils took 45 percent of their core spending from the tax—now that figure has shot up to 60 percent.
James Jamieson, chairman of the local government association said the review was not “the long term solution which is desperately needed”.
“Council tax rises—particularly the adult social care precept—have never been the answer to the long-term pressures faced by councils, particularly in social care, raising different amounts of money in different areas, unrelated to need.”
The new method of passing the buck onto ordinary people comes after a decade of vicious austerity.
Central Tory government has squeezed local authority budgets so tightly many now teeter on the edge of being unable to deliver key services.
And the real terms cut is huge.
The Institute of Fiscal Studies says that councils received 77 percent less per person in central government grants in 2019-2020 than when the Tories came to office in 2010.
Instead of defying the Tories, councils are desperate to slash costs where they can. Only angry, coordinated action can stop them.
Despite council bosses telling us there is no other way, strikes and protests can save jobs and preserve services.
It’s possible to push back on the attacks from local authorities, and to use that momentum to demand the end of the austerity regime and Tory rule.