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Not Only is Austerity Hurting Council Services What’s Left Is Being Shifted to Leafy Shires

A recent Centre for Cities report confirmed that cities have been hardest hit by cuts to local government and shone a light on what many of us on the frontline of supporting our communities already knew – that austerity is far from over. But a little noticed government consultation, snuck out before Christmas, could see things get far worse. 

Three quarters of all real-terms national government cuts to local councils’ funding since 2010 have landed on cities, the Centre for Cities report tells us. The Local Government Association have proven that local councils have lost 60p in every £1 of core government funding since 2010.

The figures in the report are eye-watering. Liverpool seeing spending per person fall by over £800; Barnsley over £680; and spending in Doncaster falling by a third. In my own borough of Islington we have lost 70 per cent of our core national government funding since 2010, which, alongside rising demand for vital services like children’s social care, has seen the council forced to make savings of £225 million, with a further £50 million of savings required over the next three years. 

For the thousands of Labour councillors across the country, like myself, the Prime Minister’s claim that “austerity is over” rings painfully hollow. The community I represent, which sits in one of the least well-off parts of the country, but is pushed up against the obscene wealth of the City, is still being attacked by an ideological government that is hell-bent on driving people into poverty. 

From Universal Credit and Job Centre sanctions; to cuts to local police and longer NHS waiting times – it is the all-encompassing nature of this Tory austerity that is so perverse and damaging.  

Now, all this would be bad enough on its own, but it is made even more despicable when we learn that not only is funding being cut from areas that need it most, but that funding is in fact set to be moved away to more affluent areas. 

The government has form on this. In 2016, a ‘Transition Grant’ was devised to 'cushion' the effect of council cuts – but the authorities that benefitted were those which had received historically fewest cuts (mostly Tory shires) while most deprived areas received nothing. 

But the biggest stitch-up of all was buried before Christmas, amidst the Brexit fog, in what could be the biggest single shift in money from the most deprived areas to the most affluent – from the have nots, to the haves. The government released the ‘technical consultation’ on the ‘Review of local authorities’ relative needs and resources’ as part of the next stage of the so-called ‘Fair Funding Review’. 

The consultation asks for views on plans to radically alter the way money is distributed between councils which would result in a further major shift of money towards more affluent Tory-controlled areas. The main way this happens is by removing the consideration of deprivation from the core ‘Foundation Formula’, despite the government’s own research that this is the second best predictor of the cost of basic services.

The consultation also fails to include a specific way of recognising the cost of homelessness. At a time of rising deaths on our streets of people who are sleeping rough, to remove this is downright shameful.

Labour’s frontbench has clocked this attack on our communities, and is working with Labour councillors to fight back against it. But it’s fair to say that the nasty party is well and truly in operation, and is using austerity to attack the least well-off in our communities once again.  

Councillor Claudia Webbe is Executive Member for Environment and Transport at Islington Council, and member of the Labour Party’s National Executive Committee