What makes this a win-win situation for the Tories is that Labour councils with largely working class residents will suffer the most. The poorer the population in a local council area, the less income it will accrue from council tax and other local income, leading the councils to depend on central government subsidy to provide basic services. Yet these are the very councils which have the greatest need for services.
These councils, often inner-city, often Labour, will suffer disproportionately from December’s plans to cut central funding. The Times showed that all but one of the top ten losers among councils are Labour and all but one of the councils facing cuts of less than 2 percent are Conservative run.
Among the councils set to experience the maximum cut of 8.9 percent are Doncaster, Liverpool, Manchester and the London boroughs of Hackney, Tower Hamlets and Newham. In contrast, the leafy avenues of Richmond, Surrey and Buckinghamshire will be virtually untouched. Tony Travers, the LSE academic who specialises in local government, said of the attack, “It’s clearly shifting resources from relatively deprived inner-city areas towards more affluent shires.” The scale of cuts was “unlike anything that has been seen before in modern times”.
The Local Government Association predicts that these cuts will cost at least 140,000 jobs over the next two years.
All this would be catastrophic enough, but at the same time there are deep cuts in welfare payments and disability benefits, while the “ringfenced” rise in NHS spending will be eaten up by inflation. School budget increases will also now be absorbed by inflation – meaning the much vaunted Lib Dem concession of the “pupil premium” will not represent new money as promised.
This is a perfect storm of attacks on the most deprived and vulnerable sections of our society. David Cameron spins the “Big Society” nonsense as everyone taking responsibility for each other. The reality is the opposite. These attacks represent a fundamental shift away from the principles of collective and social responsibility. Who will help the young people who may have used the programme to reduce teenage pregnancy in Middlesbrough which is now set to close?
To add insult to injury, the Tory ideologue Eric Pickles, secretary of state for communities and local government, has an additional spin to add – localism. This, he claims, will enable local people to make decisions about local spending and resources. But if the budgets are slashed as planned then localism may resemble having the freedom to decide where to place your deckchair on the Titanic.
As the latest convulsion of the crisis in Ireland has shown, the imposition of brutal austerity measures is no guarantee of economic recovery. Columnist Philip Stephens revealed in the Financial Times that a confidential paper is circulating in Downing Street suggesting to ministers that preparing a “plan B” might be necessary if slashing jobs, services and welfare doesn’t have the desired effect of restoring profits and cowing working class expectations.
The coalition has been rocked by the protests over the rise in tuition fees. If we are to stop this assault on the poorest sections of society we need to keep up the pressure and spread the resistance.
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