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Andrew Gwynne: Councils still face austerity after this Budget

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Only a few weeks ago, in a speech that began with the prime minister dancing across the stage at Conservative party conference, we were promised that austerity was over.

No longer would councillors fret about balancing their books, providing care for vulnerable children, or ensuring that the elderly get the care they need.

Fast forward to the days after the Budget, and this pledge has already been broken. It failed to undo the cutbacks that have stripped away local services and pushed councils into crisis.

Instead, we saw a government still prepared to push through their austerity ideology, with a further £1.3bn due to be cut from local government budgets next year, offset by mere crumbs from the table that will do little to fix the crisis government has created.

The chancellor acknowledged the crisis facing our children’s services and the pressures this places on budgets, but failed to step in and offer support. With councils overspending by £816.5m in 2017-18 on children’s services, the government’s pledge of £84m for only 20 councils comes nowhere close to addressing this national crisis.

Other funding announced for social care is far too little, and in many cases will sadly be too late, forcing councils to pit the needs of adults and children against each other.

Councils were the first to feel the axe of the coalition government in 2010, and have since seen some of the largest cuts in the public sector.

Since 2010, the spending power of local authorities has fallen by 28.6%. This includes the 49.1% cut that local authorities have seen from central government grants, and the new powers given to local authorities to retain locally raised funds.

This appears to have been lost on the government, with the chief secretary of the Treasury Liz Truss recently telling Newsnight: “What we have done with local authorities is that they are able to raise much more money locally than they were before.”

There is widespread consensus from councillors of all parties that how we fund our public services needs reform. But even as Tory councils’ collapse into bankruptcy the government refuses to acknowledge the problem. Unless we see a radical change in approach from this government, more councils will follow Northamptonshire CC into bankruptcy.

Politics is always a question of priorities and this government has the priorities wrong. With this government handing £110bn of tax relief to businesses by 2022, the services that people rely on have been cut to the bone.

In the coming days and weeks, as children’s centres and libraries stay closed, roads continue to go unrepaired, and the voices of councillors and politicians of all parties continue to be ignored, people will recognise that the prime minister’s promise has been broken.

Andrew Gwynne (Lab), shadow secretary of state, communities & local government and MP for Denton & Reddish

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