Councillor Tim Swift: Budget is too little too late for local services

Halifax Town Hall
Halifax Town Hall

Coun Tim Swift, Leader of Calderdale Council, looks at the budget and the public services that are facing a funding crisis.

Don’t be misled by the Government’s spin. The Chancellor’s budget means that next year, there will be less money to spend on the local services we all take for granted.

That’s not how the Tory chancellor made it sound when he gave his budget speech, of course. He wanted us to believe that austerity – the damaging and politically motivated savaging of public spending, which has particularly targeted local services – is coming to an end.

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And he had a willing audience in local Conservative councillors and MPs, who were quick to put out statements welcoming the claimed ‘extra money’ for social care.

The truth is rather different. Let’s look at the figures.

The chancellor said that local councils collectively would get an extra £650 million next year to spend on social care. That’s the services we provide to help children with problems, adults with disabilities, older people as they become frail, and so on.

But he forgot to mention the sleight of hand. The Government had already planned to cut the amount of support given to local councils by £1.3bn – twice as much.

So he’s handing back just half of what’s being taken away.

When people start talking in hundreds of millions and billions, it’s easy to get a bit lost. So let’s make it simple. In effect, the Chancellor is acting like a cheap trickster who takes £20 off you, tries to confuse you with a bit of waffle, gives you back a tenner and expects you to be grateful!

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The real position is even worse. Demand for social care has been growing rapidly for several years.

At the moment here in Calderdale we’re spending many millions more on looking after vulnerable children, caring for older people, and helping people with disabilities, than we had budgeted for – the Chancellor’s handout does little to bridge the gap.

Don’t get me wrong. As a local Labour councillor fighting to defend these services, I’m grateful for any temporary relief we get. Perhaps the Government really has recognised that austerity has gone too far. Perhaps local Conservative councillors and MP Craig Whittaker do finally realise that local services are at breaking point. But what the Chancellor has offered up in his recent Budget is just too little, too late.

How to offend 7,000 headteachers

It’s not just local councils and our local services that have been let down by the Tory chancellor’s budget.

His failure to adequately address the school funding crisis was made worse by the crass and insensitive language he used, saying he was giving them something to buy ‘little extras’.

Like every other public services, our schools are facing a deepening funding crisis. They need real and sustainable help – not a one off gesture.

No wonder heads, teachers unions and parents alike are up in arms about both the failure to tackle the problem, and the insensitive way in which the chancellor addressed the real problem that’s threatening our children’s education.

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