Should we really accept councillors’ claims about service cuts – and pay more?

Rubbish collection may be hit by funding cuts, despite increases in council tax in England [Image: Getty Images].

It’s the same story every year.

Councillors claim the cost of providing some services (it doesn’t matter which – this year the main offender is social care) have risen overwhelmingly and claim more cash is needed to deal with it.

They then say that this, along with the cost of other statutory services, means the overall quality or quantity of council services will fall.

Is that really value for money?

Perhaps it is time we all learned how to read a council budget properly, and started going through these documents with a fine-tooth comb, looking for waste, favouritism and corruption.

Perhaps it is time some of us realised that it is cheaper and more beneficial to accommodate elderly relatives with us – we wouldn’t have to sell their houses to pay for home care and their pensions would contribute to our regular bills.

Perhaps we should stop looking at some of these issues as matters to do with money, and accept that they are about attitudes instead?

Council leaders are warning of deep cuts to services despite nearly every local authority in England planning to raise council tax in 2017.

Increases of up to 4.99% are expected across the country, but libraries, bin collections and other services will still face funding gaps.

The Local Government Association says the cost of care for increasing numbers of elderly people is forcing up bills.

The government insists it is giving more money to councils.

The Department for Communities and Local Government said local authorities had been given a “historic” four-year settlement, giving them the certainty they needed to plan ahead, with almost £200bn available “to provide the services that local people want”.

Source: Council tax to rise while services cut, says LGA – BBC News

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28 thoughts on “Should we really accept councillors’ claims about service cuts – and pay more?

  1. Justin

    no we should not believe them, they have known this was a problem for a lot longer than this, secondly is it uniform, i wonder how westminster, certain parts of essex,oxford, cambridge and other tory run councils are taking to shoulder the cost, certainly this has gone on to long and nobody will accept responsibilty, something that should lie totally at tory door

  2. Neilth

    I can only assume you’re being provocative. You know full well that LAs are having their funding from central government taxation reduced yet again by huge amounts across the country. Certain notable recent exceptions in Tory heartlands do not matter one jot to the hardest pressed. Some LAs with high business rates income (again, strangely enough, mostly Tory) are not under the same pressures as the poorest communities (mostly labour) that benefit less from bigger business.
    So they had EU social fund support, guess what is going.
    Councils have a statutory duty to spend enough on education, social services, social care etc which takes up the largest part of their budgets. NHS cuts has put more pressure on social care eating a larger chunk of the budget. You know that we’re comparatively lucky in Wales where the Assembly has put money in to help in this.
    So having seen the largest part of the budget disappear on the things LAs HAVE to do that leaves the diminishing rest for all the other things, like potholes, rubbish collections, libraries, parks and playgrounds and all the other provisions that we all take for granted. That’s why the cuts impact disproportionately on these non-statutory services. When the Government demands a 5% cut across the board that means a probable 15% hit on the non statutory stuff or more.
    So tell me as Jonathon Pie explained which services would you cut?

    1. Mike Sivier Post author

      That’s not the right question, though.
      The right question is – how would you do things differently, to get better results?
      You need to think three-dimensionally on this. I was trying to explain it in the article. Budgets must be examined, yes – and alternatives must be considered too.

      1. Neilth

        You’re probably right that LAs could do things smarter, or rather you would have been right seven years ago when the cuts started to bite. Since then councils have worked extremely hard to find ways to get more for less and have largely been successful. There may even still be a little wriggle room but there comes a point when there is nothing left to cut except essential services. Councils have worked with the third sector, charities not for profits etc as well as reducing workforces and closing some services.
        Sometimes the good has become a victim of the bad. E.g. A local charity working with children with ASD and their families was a victim of such rationalisation leaving a huge hole in the support those families had previously enjoyed, and the kids nowhere to go.
        Yes examine alternatives and I’m not suggesting everything is perfect but if you cut away enough there’s nothing left.

  3. autismandate

    At last the truth is coming out. Couldn’t agree more. This is where the demi evil is. If any Government gives LAs more money they get more bloated and expand their departments and service users get nothing and are victims of so called efficiencies. If any Government cuts money to LAs they expand their departments to administer the cuts, and stay over nourished and the service users get less because there is only so much money in the pot.

  4. wildswimmerpete

    A few years ago I submitted an FOI request to my local council requesting a breakdown of the amounts financed via Council Tax. Just over 40% of my Council Tax went directly to fund senior council officers’ gold-plated final-salary pensions. Reading between the lines, such beneficence didn’t extend to the pensions of bin men, street cleaners etc.

    1. Neilth

      My god you must be paying millions in council tax. The amount raised via council tax is a small proportion of any Local Authority’s budget as the vast bulk comes via the Central Government grant and from business rates. For 40% of your contribution to be paying to fund the executives then either you are hugely rich or you’ve misunderstood the information you say you got from an foi

    2. Dez

      Which is why they outsource the lesser mortals services to contractors who do not have gold plated final pension schemes. This down to the fact no one has the spheres to attack final pensions in Civil and Local Government whereas private industry drew in their belts many years ago when the pensions costs became oppressive to profit. In local and civil servant cases there is no pressure as it is paid from rates and taxes and it is difficult for those that enjoy the pension luxury to turn off the golden goose to their retirements. Governments and media have pointed this anomaly out for many years but no one addresses it….just building up the costs. How much is the NHS pension costs as part of their budget? Lets have less chiefs and more indians

  5. claudiahector

    I can’t believe this. The Tories will provide money for their own but not for the rest of us, as in Surrey.

    Everything is more expensive and more importantly there are greater calls on the local authority purse. We have many homeless people to find places for when we don’t have the housing stock any more, for instance.

    All authorities have councillors from more than one political party therefor the opposing party or parties will of course look for signs of mismanaged funds. Also if you were interested you could ask for the information to look into this yourself. Why say other people should do it when it seems you haven’t done so yourself.

    As far as old people are concerned there are real problems about taking care of them in the family. My partner is an only child and when his mother was a disabled widow in Wales mine was a disabled widow on the English south coast and we were both still in work in London We have to have social,services to take care of people. If it is possible for the family to take care of someone without selling the family home to pay for support then there is nothing to stop them.

    1. Mike Sivier Post author

      Where did I say other people should do something I wouldn’t do myself?
      Yes, we have to have social services because some people will always need them.

  6. rotzeichen

    A simple reality is that Thatcher closed down public care homes, our public services have all been outsourced to private sector companies, budgets have been cut not just this year, but year on year since the 1970s.

    We were told that the private sector will deliver better cheaper services, this of course is the reality, paying more for less.

    We are suffering from a Neo-Liberal nightmare where successive Neo-Liberal governments talk up the benefits of the private sector whilst denigrating public service, this has been the agenda since the 1970s, in truth what we have witnessed is the transfer of wealth upwards and the asset stripping of public assets.

    We have witnessed Tax reductions for the rich and a transfer of the tax burden on to the rest of us, stagnating our economy and destroying our manufacturing base.

    People really do need to understand that a post war Labour Party rebuilt Britain and created jobs whilst creating public services, our economy grew and Tories were frightened to alter that until Heath in 1970 started the Neo-Liberal agenda, creating industrial unrest and the chaos that Thatcher brought.

    We can get out of this nightmare, all we have to do is emulate that post war Labour Government, and get people working together rather than competing against each other.

  7. Cormac Jordan

    Enough is enough. Everything is increasing in cost, yet wages have been stagnant for as long as I can remember. They have to make do with things as they stand. The average citizen is financially stretched to near breaking point.

    1. rotzeichen

      Agree with everything you say, but did you know that we can afford our NHS and all our other public services, the Tory agenda is to privatise them and has deliberately used the banking crisis as an excuse to do just that.

      Our Government creates money out of thin air every single day of the week, that is how money gets into the economy.

      The problem is they create it by issuing it as debt through the private banking system.

      They could but won’t because they work for the Financial sector, put money directly where it is needed such as our public services.

      People do not understand that our government does not have to borrow it’s own money; that only it can create. Read your pound notes it tells you who creates the money, the Bank of England belongs to the state.

      Poverty is a political policy not a fact of life, if people had plenty of money in their pockets, they would not need to borrow, if they don’t borrow, money doesn’t get into the economy, because the private banks through the Bank of England print money out of thin air each time they make a loan. THAT IS A FACT.

  8. Roy Beiley

    You need to understand the Council’s budgetary process. Each year the Govt provides councils in January with how much they are to receive for the financial year starting the following April. How that grant is determined for each Council is based on some ancient formula that nobody understands.
    Councillors then have to set their annual budget allocating how much they expect each service they are responsible for providing will cost. When totalled up any shortfall between that figure and the value of their grant (which is ALWAYS a shortfall ) has to made up from other income ( eg car park charges) and Council Tax.
    As the Tories have consistently cut the value of their grant, the Council Tax becomes the only way to balance the books. Councils are legally bound to have a balanced budget.
    How Councils decide how to provide the services is a political decision. Few Councils can bear the cost of providing the services through “in house” employees any more so the work is put to the private sector usually under EU competitive tendering arrangements.
    This is where the problems start. Contract monitoring is not a skill that most Council managers have plus the financial monitoring systems are poor so that mistakes like overcharging go undetected far too long and as a consequence the allocated budget can not cover the actual costs.
    It is customary for Councillors to blame their Officers for any failures of this kind. A blame culture exists all the time where political decisions are taken the financial outcomes of which can not be delivered within budget.
    But it suits the Govt to have councils as their whipping boys providing a nice firewall when things go pear shaped.
    It is easy to blame “greedy” contractors but in reality the Govt, local councillors, contract managers and the contractors themselves are all guilty at playing a part in this problem which will eventually result in some services not being provided at all. You get what you are prepared to pay for.

    1. Mike Sivier Post author

      “Few Councils can bear the cost of providing the services through “in house” employees any more so the work is put to the private sector usually under EU competitive tendering arrangements.” This seems where the problem starts, to me. The cost of providing services through the private sector is always higher, due to the profit motive.
      Your comments about contract monitoring ring true, also.
      If I get to be elected as a councillor, I’ll certainly look into all this from the inside.

  9. Florence

    Smoke and mirrors in LAs. After the out sourcing scam, many LAs are deskilled in actually directly employing workers to do these jobs more cheaply than the outsourced services. Many councilors are actually simply not up to the job, but in many Labour CLPs the young and more left wing – the ones who might actually have a degree and some new ideas – are kept out by the old guard. Speaking of corruption and incompetence, living in West Wales, I can only despair at the electorate for continuing to return the same ones over and over. A great example is the £80,000 spent on a report about what to do with a coastal road that costs £8,000 to keep open in winter. That recommended a detour road scheme to push through small lanes and farms, costing £100 million. To “save” £8,000 a year. They are indeed the laughing stock of the LA organisations.

    If I was fit I would stand for election, but there are few who will do it.

  10. Anna Hubbard

    I think the reason we have to tread carefully here is that much of the recent legislation relating to adult social care and carers has fudged what this government thinks carers ‘should’ do, ‘could’ do and are prepared to do. The buzz word these days is ‘asset led assessments’ which involves determining what anyone other than the local authority can do prior to commissioning care that is local authority funded. All well and good but I guess the worry is people may feel pressurised into taking on caring commitments that in reality they can’t – or don’t wish to – fulfil.

  11. Jenny Hambidge

    Echoes of a certain Tory minister saying that families should expect to take care of their elderly people, as they expect to have to take care of their children. Women have always been the lead carers but look whats happened! women (ok men) in their fifties and upwards expected to care for two generations but government now requires women to work until they are 67!!

  12. Dez

    Personally I feel the Cons are pushing what should be central taxation onto the local councils so that they do not have to increase the central income tax budget.. By diverting the problem onto the local councils etc these Councils will bear the brunt of the unrest and dissatisfaction from the local communities.

  13. James Kemp

    Oh, it get’s worse in East Sussex CC the latest wheeze is EVERYONE must pay. That’s even people on benefits now have to find 20% of total council tax bill! Disabled people like myself on a fixed so-called benefits have to find an extra 20% council tax combined with the bedroom tax because if the crime of living. In a 2 bed converted house and no I cannot move as there are no 1 bedroom properties available, even then it would have to be converted for me.

    So I am many other disabled people in East Sussex discovering how little they can now eat. No, i don’t drink, smoke or have sky TV my only luxury is broad band.Every month I have to scrabble around stealing off one to pay another it’s beyond a sick joke where these counsellors all Tory, of course, think disabled and old people are going to get this extra money!

  14. James Kemp

    Bet the CPS didn’t again charge them with the disabled hate crime to get the uptick on their tariffs!

    What the living F do you have to do to get charged with hate crime against disabled people? I honestly ask because as far as I am aware not 1 person has ever been charged under this act. Disgusting and yes all disabled people get regularly abused including myself.

    This disgusting attitude if hate is spread because of the colaberation of evil MSN and this Tory government.

  15. tonyt

    I worked in a non-Tory North-Eastern local authority until the end of 1999. From 1992 they had to make cuts every year. Since 1999, I have never heard of Central Government giving local authorities more money (in real terms) than the previous year; except for the occasions where they gave them more duties and responsibilities to carry out and gave them (not enough) money to do the job. (Social Care ring any bells?)

    Maybe things were and are different elsewhere but I am disappointed that so many people swallow central government stories about the fault lying entirely with local authorities. There probably still are some profligate local authorities but I bet they are very few and far between.

    [Interest declaration: Yes, I have a local government pension.]

    1. Mike Sivier Post author

      It was not my intention to absolve central government of its responsibility to provide adequate funding. My point was that, in the absence of a responsible government, it is important to ensure the money that IS available is used well.

  16. Barry Davies

    As I understand it the councils are going to increase the local tax and cut services again, the idea that families can look after their relatives is about 40 years out of date because the nuclear family and living in close vicinity for families these days is not a common occurrence.

  17. Ros Jackson

    As a councillor, I’d love it if people would spend more time examining the budgets of their local councils, because then more people would understand where the funding gap comes from. I think a lot of people believe council tax plays a much greater role in funding their council than it does, when it’s central government funding that used to make up a huge chunk, and is expected to peter out to practically nothing in a few years.

    The cost of social care is significant and rising, sure, but it isn’t the root of local government’s problems. That lies with the Tories and their “small state” ideas. It’s a case of knowing the price of everything and the value of nothing, and dismissing the value of public services and infrastructure.

    1. Neilth

      Quite right Ros, the Tories are trying to shift taxation from central government onto local authorities so they can claim to be cutting taxes and blame LAs especially labour controlled and therefore socially aware of pushing up taxes to maintain services. As I said earlier the areas that need the most support tend to be also the poorest areas so the burden will fall heaviest on those least able to pay. This is the perfect solution for Tories.

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