I sometimes wish we had a financial year that starts in April. The run-up to Christmas these days is ruined by the depressing process of budget setting in January.
Behind the scenes it has been depressingly easy to agree the cuts. It has not been easy to determine where to save money with as little effect on services and jobs as possible, but the inevitability of it all has made the discussions with despondent politicians on our options short and succinct.
Is this a case of politicians being led by the nose by nasty officers? Eric Pickles would see it asevidence that local councillors are listening too much to officers rather than residents. He upset colleagues at the recent County Councils Network conference by accusing them of being officer poodles if they supported council tax increases. He was asked why he was always so rude to us and responded by saying he loved us. The delegates groaned and told him to grow up.
Next week I will be starting to consult with the unions about the next wave of job cuts. I will be meeting key voluntary organisations about cuts in their funding. I will be briefing leading people from all our local partners about the effects of our reduced capability on our partnerships. All jolly things to do in the run-up to Christmas.
In this context, I feel extremely annoyed at the flippant, simplistic attitude of our minister. We don’t have choices any more. We’ve done all the obvious things and set in train the long-term fundamental changes. Faced with further cuts, it is a ‘no brainer’ to increase tax. On that councillors and senior officers are at one.
I think Mr Pickles thinks our budgets are like Dr Who’s Tardis - bigger on the inside. Maybe we do need Dr Who to help rescue local government. First, he could put Mr Pickles in an infinitely dense singularity in time and space. Then he could take on the job of chief executive of Birmingham. Not sure the current Doctor would do well, but the new Doctor would be excellent in the thick of it.
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