However much they try, the government cannot hide behind the smoke and mirrors they have used to create the illusion of a “fair and progressive” financial settlement.
By introducing a new measure of ‘spending power’ it merely seeks to confuse and misrepresent the true picture. The government want us to believe that the average reduction in “revenue spending power” will be 4.4%, but in reality there is much more at stake.
They have said that we, at Medway Council, face a 3.6% reduction. Yet in the real world this actually amounts to a 12% cut in our budget, meaning that we face a total budget gap of almost £24m next year.
Even Eric Pickles’ top sliced transition fund, isn’t going to help hard-pressed councils. All this has done is take additional funds away from the overall budget all local authorities would have received.
After the combined effects of the recession, Gershon efficiency targets, unfunded additional burdens and floor damping, local authorities such as Medway have far less ability to tackle these massive reductions. These cuts will affect services and result in job losses.
The truth is that the government is using a financial settlement based on a flawed and unfair formula grant. That being the case the resultant settlement remains flawed and unfair.
This means that reductions will disproportionately hit those councils already operating from a low resource base.
Now, post-settlement, Mr Pickles is saying the settlement will allow councils to reshape services. He is undoubtedly right, the conundrum is what shape is he talking about? It seems to me that it will be a very poor shape indeed from which to deliver services and do our best for the people we represent.
The least the government can do is admit that we are now faced with making some pretty stark choices.
Alan Jarrett, (Con) deputy leader of Medway Council, portfolio holder for finance