Councillor Colin Raistrick: The age of austerity is definitely not over

Southgate Christian Centre, Elland
Southgate Christian Centre, Elland

Coun Colin Raistrick gives his views on last week’s full meeting of Calderdale Council as members discussed at length cuts to council spending.

The usual arguments were trotted out last week during a debate on spending cuts at the full council meeting, with each political wing blaming the other.

You know how it goes, the bankers were to blame or the last Labour government. The latest Budget got a mention, along with the phrase “the end of austerity”, the “trillion pound debt” and all the rest of the seasonly appropriate pantomime phrases.

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I don’t usually get involved in these arguments but this time it felt a little different. I’ve been on the council since before the financial crash of 2008 and the world has certainly changed. I’ve always felt that the council wasted a lot of money and that there was a good deal of fat (can I say fat?) that could be cut out. I no longer think this is the case.

Two thirds of the council budget is spent on child and adult social care: that is, looking after the most vulnerable in our society. Really, potholes, bin collecting and planning, although they fill my mailbox, are just window dressing.

I’ve been involved in the oversight of our children and young people’s department for virtually all my time on the council. In that time the performance of this department has improved beyond all recognition. This at a time when the dangers to our young people have increased dramatically. This improvement is not an easy process and without proper funding is difficult to sustain.

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It should be noted that our neighbouring authorities - Bradford, Kirklees and Wakefield - are all rated “inadequate” by the government.

Calderdale, to all parties’ credit, has somehow always found the money, but in the last few months a couple of decisions have had to be taken which have been made purely on budgetary considerations rather than outcomes for our vulnerable young people.

Obviously, it is not a bottomless pit and the decisions were, to some extent, the cherry on top of a nicely iced cake, but they are indicative that the age of austerity is definitely not over yet, no matter what people may say.

Food banks are often quoted as a signal that times are hard. I’m not so sure about this. I’m sure there are some people suffering real hardship, but I’m not convinced that food banks are a meaningful indicator of this. As my auntie Joyce, who lives in Morley, says: “If you give away free stuff, you’re always going to have a queue!”

Now on a lighter note, some phrases don’t mean what they say.

My wife goes “window shopping” but never buys windows, goes to “garage sales” but we still don’t have a garage, we didn’t buy our car boot at a sale and finally, it’s no good going to an “umbrella corporation” when it’s raining.

Merry Christmas everyone (or happy holidays if you prefer).

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