Tagged: spending cuts

Government blames North East councils for cuts of £240 million

Ministers have accused North East councils of sitting on unused land and property which they could sell to protect services.

But local authorities facing massive spending cuts of more than £240 million ridiculed the claims – and pointed out that there are strict rules preventing them from selling the land to fund services.

And the comments provoked an angry reaction from Labour, who accused the Government of imposing higher cuts on urban councils in the North East than wealthy parts of the country.

Ministers launched the attack on councils which are reducing services and raising council tax, claiming that they had nobody to blame but themselves.

The Association of North East Councils has warned that crucial services such as care for vulnerable children are in danger of collapse as massive cuts in council funding wipe almost quarter of a billion pounds off budgets across the North East this year.

It says the true impact of Government spending cuts has been hidden because authorities have succeeded in “raiding” other services and diverting funds where they are needed most – but they have reached a point where this just won’t be possible any more.

But Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles issued a statement claiming councils have large sources of untapped revenue including money held in reserve, assets such as property or land, and council tax arrears which have gone uncollected.

And his department published a league table highlighting the worst offenders, with County Durham named as one of the authorities with high levels of surplus assets. The authority is sitting on assets worth £62 million, according to the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG).

The department also named Gateshead as an authority with high levels of surplus assets, worth £49 million.

Government figures also showed that Northumberland council had reserves of £96.4 million while Newcastle-upon-Tyne had reserves of £78.9 million.

Mr Pickles said:

“Reserves have rocketed up in the past few years and councils could be making better use of assets to keep taxes down and protect frontline services, while at the same time doing more to stop the billions they are losing to fraud and collecting more Council Tax arrears.”

But the claims were dismissed by Councillor Alan Napier, Deputy Leader of Durham County Council, who said:

“We do have surplus assets of £62 million which includes both land and buildings, including former school sites.

“Most of these sites are either being sold, up for sale or in the process of being put up for sale. When sold, our hands are tied as to what we can spend the money on as the receipts are ring-fenced and can only be spent on new capital items such as buildings, vehicles or infrastructure.

“I would have expected Mr Pickles to know that receipts from surplus assets cannot be used to reduce council tax or protect front line services ”

Gateshead Council’s strategic director of corporate services and governance, Mike Barker, said

“£41m illion of assets which have been classed as ‘surplus to requirements’ actually relate to land which has already been contractually committed towards building much needed, good quality, affordable housing across the borough.

“The development of this land is already underway on sites at Deckham, Bensham and Saltwell, and Birtley. Over the next 15 years, the joint venture partnership between ourselves, Galliford Try and Home Group will build thousands of new homes on 19 different sites across Gateshead; bringing jobs, investment, and regeneration to many areas.”

The devastating impact of Government cuts on council services was confirmed in a report by the National Audit Office late last year, which warned that authorities were reaching a point where they couldn’t cope.

It said:

“While local authorities have maintained financial resilience overall, some – particularly among metropolitan districts – are now showing persistent signs of financial stress, such as unplanned in-year reductions in service spend.

“Looking to the future, there is increased uncertainty about how local authorities can manage further possible falls in income.”

Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle,  11 Feb 2015

MPs urge Miliband to lean further Left in alternative election manifesto

Four North-East Labour MPs have urged Ed Miliband to swing to the Left and rip up his “tragic” commitment to further deep spending cuts.

Grahame Morris (Easington), Ian Mearns (Gateshead), Dave Anderson (Blaydon) and Ian Lavery (Wansbeck) are among 16 rebels issuing the challenge to their leader.

Their alternative election manifesto demands:

* A £30bn investment package – an “alternative way out of endless austerity” – funded either by higher borrowing, the state-owned banks, or a levy on the super-rich.

The MPs call on Mr Miliband to exploit 0.5 per cent interest rates, arguing it would cost just £150m a year to finance the package – which they say would create more than a million jobs, within three years.

Instead, they say: “All three main parties, tragically, seem to agree that deep spending cuts must continue to be made until the structural budget deficit is wiped out in 2019-20.”

* Rail nationalisation, by taking train operating franchises back into public ownership when they expire.

The MPs reject Labour’s plan to allow not-for-profit firms to bid for franchises, condemning it as timid and “wholly unnecessary”.

They claim privatisation costs £1.2bn a year, adding: “Over 80 per cent of the public want the railways re-nationalised, which must include a significant proportion of Tories.”

* Stronger trade union and employment rights, with a return to collective bargaining “as a check against excessive corporate power”.

The alternative manifesto blames the disappearance of union-negotiated agreements for a sharp fall in the share of national income going to salaries and wages – from 65 per cent in 1980, to 53 per cent in 2012.

And it says: “We should therefore actively promote sectoral collective bargaining and strengthen the rights of trade unions to recognition, and of their members to representation.”

The move laid bare how Mr Miliband will struggle to carry his party to make the deep spending cuts planned, even if he wins a small majority in May.

The left-wing group of MPs are keen to take advantage of the rise of the anti-austerity Green Party and of the SNP to push Labour in a more radical direction.

Meanwhile, Len McCluskey, the Unite general secretary, has made repeated threats to establish a new workers’ party if Labour loses after offering a “pale shade of austerity”.

Last year, Mr McCluskey urged the likes of Mr Morris, Mr Mearns and Mr Lavery to “put the brakes” on Ed Miliband if he tries to take Labour to the right

> Even further to the right, I think he means…

It followed the trio’s criticism of Labour support for an overall welfare cap and vote against compulsory unpaid work experience.

Source – Northern Echo,  26 Jan 2015

Austerity Cuts Will Bite Even Harder In 2015 – Another £12bn Will Go

This article  was written by Amelia Gentleman, for The Guardian on Thursday 1st January 2015

George Osborne says the coverage of looming new spending cuts has been “hyperbolic”, but away from Downing Street there is a strong consensus that the cumulative effect of five years of austerity will make the next wave of cuts, in 2015, very painful.

Four more years of austerity is “a price that works for our country”, Osborne said as he outlined his strategy. The Institute for Fiscal Studies responded by warning that “colossal” cuts to the state would take total government spending to its lowest level as a proportion of national income since before the second world war. By the end of the process, “the role and shape of the state will have changed beyond recognition”, the think tank said. So far, £35bn has been cut; the plan is to cut a further £55bn by 2019.

 > But that’s the plan, isn’t it ? To change the role and shape of the state beyond recognition ? A state where old Etonians rule by right and the poor get trampled into the ground ?

If the chancellor remains in post after the general election, Britain will find itself halfway through a nine-year stretch of spending cuts, with the Conservatives determined to shrink and redefine the role of the state. The Liberal Democrats say the Conservative policy is aimed at creating “a smaller state, with many more cuts to come”, giving Britain “austerity for ever”; 2015 will be a pivotal year in the race to reshape the nature of the state.

> Would that be the same Liberal Democrats who are part of the  coalition that is making these changes to society ? Sorry, Lib Dems, don’t start wringing your hands now – you won’t get rid of the blood on them that way.

Even if they lose, difficult spending cuts look inevitable. Labour is also committed to ending the deficit, in 2017-18, provided the state of the economy allows it.

Protesters demonstrate against the bedroom tax.
Protesters demonstrate against the bedroom tax. Photograph: Matthew Lloyd/Getty Images

For many publicly funded services and organisations, 2015 will be the year when their chances of survival become clear. There is an enormous range in the size and the function of services under threat, which makes tracking the scale of the cuts challenging.

Here are just four examples – from the large scale to the tiny, of services that are set to go this year.

In June, the Independent Living Fund, which provides funding for around 18,000 disabled people to work and live in the community, will be wound down. In Liverpool, there will be a decision in early 2015 over whether the council will close a possible 23 out of the city’s 26 Sure Start centres. On a smaller scale, organisations including the Islington Centre for Refugees and Migrants, in north London, which supports around 150 refugees and asylum seekers, providing English classes, faces closure because of cuts to education budgets.

These are people who come to us on a daily basis who desperately need some kind of support,” project manager Andy Ruiz Palma says. “I would lose my job, but I am more worried about the clients. There is nowhere else for them to go.”

In Ealing, west London, parents are campaigning to save the lollipop crossing role, done for the past 20 years by Eileen Rowles, and now at risk of being discontinued because of council spending cuts.

The Office for Budget Responsibility said in December that the chancellor’s plans would mean one million further government job losses by 2020 (a total fall from early 2011 of 1.3 million), representing a 20% fall in headcount.

Over the past five years, there has been surprise and relief from politicians that public anger about spending cuts has been relatively muted. Aside from a few annual anti-cuts marches in big cities, Britain has not experienced the waves of protest seen in countries such as Spain. Given that those most affected by the cuts are the most vulnerable and disempowered people in society, it’s perhaps not surprising that the response has been muted.

But that could change in 2015. The next stage of cutbacks is likely to be harder to ignore. The easy decisions have already been made; once the low-hanging fruit has been removed, finding new things to cut gets harder, which means the second half of the austerity era is likely to be much tougher than the first.

By next May, government funding for councils will be 40% lower than it was in 2010; and a further 13% will need to be cut in 2015.

It is individuals who have paid the price of funding reductions, whether it is through seeing their local library close, roads deteriorate or support for young people or families scaled back. Further reductions without radical reform will have a detrimental impact on people’s quality of life,” the Local Government Association chair, Tony Sparks, says.

The 2011 campaign to save Kensal Rise library from closure.
The 2011 campaign to save a London library from closure. Photograph: Sean Smith/The Guardian

The National Audit Office has warned that more than half of councils currently risk falling into serious financial crisis before the end of the decade. Some may struggle to provide services that they are legally obliged to offer, and this may become apparent in 2015 with more legal action by service users.

Nicola Smith, head of economic affairs at the TUC, says:

“The scale of the spending cuts that the chancellor set out in his autumn statement briefing is truly severe. The public sector has already experienced five years of austerity. The consequences for key services that people rely on are severe.”

Osborne has said that if the Conservatives win the election he will want to cut a further £12bn a year from the welfare bill – on top of the £20m-£25m that has already been cut. He proposes freezing working-age benefits for two years, reducing the overall benefit cap from £26,000 to £23,000, and limiting access to housing benefit for people under 21.

Professor John Hills, director of the Centre for Analysis of Social Exclusion at the London School of Economics, says that the impact of further cuts in this area would be very painful.

“Both the political and public belief is that spending on out-of-work benefits is a large share of overall public spending; it is not. Trying to make large savings from what is really a small share of public spending will require increasingly harsh cuts. We have seen this already through things like the bedroom tax, the imposition of council tax on people with very low incomes, and the greatly increased use of sanctioning. To continue to get more savings from that group will require harsher measures.”

Source – Welfare Weekly, 01 Jan 2015

http://www.welfareweekly.com/austerity-cuts-will-bite-even-harder-2015-another-12bn-will-go/

Durham County Council using reserves to protect services from deeper cuts

Labour chiefs at the North-East’s biggest council are drawing on cash reserves to stave off deeper spending cuts until after next year’s General Election.

Durham County Council must save another £16.2m in the financial year from April, the lowest annual figure since the last Election, taking the total cuts imposed between 2010 and 2018 to nearly £250m.

However, the figure then rockets to £32m and £39.1m for the following two years and the 2014-15 total would have been much higher had officials were not spending £10m from reserves.

Tory Communities Secretary Eric Pickles has repeatedly lambasted Labour councils for cutting frontline services while sitting on huge reserves.

Labour chiefs at Durham have to date resisted demands to spend their nest egg, but it is thought they have relented now in the hope of avoiding the deeper cuts planned for 2016 to 2018 if Ed Miliband becomes Prime Minister next May.

Durham’s Labour leader Simon Henig said: “Overall spending totals will be the same but we’re lobbying hard for a fairer distribution.

“If that happens, our savings targets will be reduced.”

Next year’s cuts include £8.5m from children and adults services, including £4m from a review of management and support services; and £2.6m from neighbourhood services, including £933,000 from introducing charges for garden waste collection.

The sums are based on an assumption council tax will rise every year by two per cent, although specific decisions are taken each February.

The authority expects to have cut £136.9m by April, including £23m this year.

Opposition groups the Derwentside Independents, Liberal Democrats and Conservatives welcomed the use of reserves, with Lib Dem leader Amanda Hopgood saying they currently stood at £160m.

Each opposition group will produce alternative budget proposals in coming weeks following talks with council directors.

The authority’s Labour cabinet will discuss its 2015-16 budget at County Hall on Wednesday, December 17, before the full council takes the final decisions in February.

Durham imposed a 1.99 per cent council tax hike this year, the first rise since 2010. Its highest single year spending cut was £66m, back in 2011-12.
Source –  Durham Times,  10 Dec 2014

Warning that council cuts could hit North East parks

Gains made from almost £70m of lottery cash investment, which has revived public parks across the North East, are now at risk from spending cuts.

The warning has come from the Heritage Lottery Fund in a new report titled State of UK Public Parks 2014: Renaissance to Risk?

It says that council cutbacks in parks maintenance threaten many restoration schemes carried out over the last 20 years which have give a new lease of life to the region’s parks.

Leazes Park in Newcastle, Saltwell Park in Gateshead, South Marine Park in South Shields,and Mowbray Park in Sunderland are among parks in the region which have received major lottery awards for restoration schemes.

A total of £68.3m in lottery money has been sunk into parks in the North East since 1994.

But the report says that unless future funding is generated in new ways, these parks are at serious risk of rapid decline.

Ivor Crowther, head of the fund in the North East, said: “The North East has a proud tradition of public parks, enjoyed by thousands daily. Highly valued and precious places, they are vital to the physical and emotional well-being of all our local communities.

“ Following decades of decline, lottery funding has revitalised parks across the North East but this reports shows that this investment is now at risk.

“We realise these are financially tough times and that is why we need collaborative action and a fresh approach to halt this threat of decline.

“Our parks are far too important not to act now.”

The report found that 63% of park managers who responded expect a decline in the condition of local parks in the North East over the next three years as a result of average expected cuts to maintenance budgets of 20%.

But local people are rallying round to protect their parks, with 38% of park managers reporting an increase of membership of friends groups in the North East’s parks over the last three years. The report says that local authorities have no statutory requirement to fund and maintain parks.

Neither is there a national co-ordinating body able to champion the importance of parks, to assert their value to communities and the economy, and protect them for future generations to enjoy.

In addition to calling for continued investment by local authorities, HLF’s report highlights the need to develop new ways of looking after and funding parks, including investing up to £24m each year across the UK through the Parks for People programme, with Big Lottery Fund providing an additional £10m per year in England until the end of 2015.

Nationally, the report shows that 86% of parks managers report cuts to revenue budgets since 2010, a trend they expect to continue over the next three years.

Source –  Newcastle Journal,  28 June 2014

David Cameron Think’s He’s The Messiah – Poor And Disabled Left Waiting For A Miracle

 The life of PM David Cameron has just become a little bizarre. During his Easter Reception at Downing St, he reportedly said he was simply continuing the work of Christ when he launched the “Big Society” initiative of volunteering and civic responsibility.

“Jesus invented the Big Society 2,000 years ago, I just want to see more of it and encourage as much of it as possible.” Cameron said, adding  that the Government should seek to improve the “spiritual and moral state” of the nation and be unashamedly “evangelical”.

If that wasn’t bizarre enough, he then went onto compare himself to a company that unblocks drains. Offering his services to help the Church keep up its commitments to Jesus’ Big Society concept, he said: “If there are things that are stopping you from doing more, think of me as a giant Dyno-Rod”.

So has the PM, as one voter tweeted, “…gone mad”? Or is this the end result of what the PM has called a “difficult week” and why he had to fly off to Lanzarote? Either way, his bizarre comments do not reflect Coalition policy, and here is why.

 Dyno-Rod proudly state on their website: “Our priority is to deliver the best service we can, working to the highest standards – we know it’s what our customers expect”.
Unfortunately for Cameron, his coalition government has delivered the worst. Brutal welfare reform and spending cuts has seen living standards fall and the cost of living to rise. His priority is the wealthy – shown by tax cuts and bonuses. In addition, with George Osborne promising a year of “hard truths” and further spending cuts, people can expect things to get even tougher.

However, no matter how tough things get, the people of Britain can be assured that their suffering is all part of the continuation of Christ’s work – well, that is if Cameron is to be believed.

His assertion that he is simply doing God’s work is a refreshing change from blaming Labour, but his policies are far removed from anything Jesus ever said or did.

For instance, his claim that Jesus invented the Big Society cannot be found in any version of the bible. So, it would appears that Cameron, who claims to have a ‘strong faith’, hasn’t been reading his bible, or as he? Indeed, if Christ had created the idea behind the ‘Big Society’, that idea would have been very different to Cameron’s vision.

If Cameron is the Messiah that would make his cabinet – by default – the Twelve Apostles; who, according to scripture, were all early followers chosen to become Christs closest disciples, advance his kingdom and carry the Gospel message to the world. It’s not difficult to see the similarity between that and Cameron’s Cabinet – earlier classmates chosen to become close allies and so on. Ironically, the chosen disciples were neither scholarly nor had any exceptional skill. Indeed none were religious. Compare that, for example to Osborne, Chancellor of the Exchequer, yet he only has a single degree in history.

That is where the similarities end. The bible has generosity and helping the poor as one of its major themes, stretching from the Old Testament to the New. Whilst Cameron has got the generosity part right with his tax cuts and bonuses for the rich, when it comes to helping the poor he has done nothing.

Cameron once said: “Let us look at the issue of dependency where we have trapped people in poverty through the extent of welfare that they have”.

Rather than helping, he has embarked on some of the biggest cuts to welfare support since the formation of the welfare state, which has led to a five-fold increase in poverty-stricken families turning to food banks.

Yet, Cameron is still insisting that he is helping. When the Archbishop of Westminster, the Most Rev Vincent Nichols, criticized the cuts to the welfare state which had left many facing destitution and hunger, Cameron responded by saying it’s “simply not true” and that welfare reform was part of his “moral mission” for the country. Moreover, in his response – written in The Daily Telegraph – he said:

“Our welfare reforms go beyond that alone: they are about giving new purpose, new opportunity, new hope – and yes, new responsibility to people who had previously been written off with no chance. Seeing these reforms through is at the heart of our long-term economic plan – and it is at the heart, too, of our social and moral mission in politics today”.

In my view, Cameron’s policies are immoral. His long-term economic plan has created unprecedented demands on food banks, has subjected people who are disabled to degrading assessments and has caused unnecessary hardship and homelessness.

Yet he continues, ignoring the fact that his reforms are not giving new purpose, new opportunity or new hope. His disciple, Ian Duncan Smith (AKA – Secretary of State for Work and Pensions) blindly follows. Writing in The Daily Telegraph, he rejected claims that welfare reform will condemn thousands to a “Dickensian” way of life. Adding:

“If you’d listened to the scaremongers, you’d be forgiven for thinking we were ripping up the welfare state and telling people to fend for themselves. In fact, what we are doing is returning the welfare state to what it was meant to be: a safety net, not a way of life”.

The poor, sick and disabled are left waiting for a miracle and used as scapegoats for our country’s economic ills, whilst David Cameron’s government continues to look after the interests of the greedy and most richest – the same people, who some may argue, caused the ‘economic crisis’ to begin with.

 By Jenny Howarth for the Welfare News Service (WNS).

Source – Welfare News Service  12 April 2014

http://welfarenewsservice.com/david-cameron-thinks-hes-the-messiah-poor-and-disabled-left-waiting-for-a-miracle/

Government hands over just £143,000 extra to North East councils after cuts crisis talks

Months of pressuring the Government to think again on council spending cuts worth more than £210m a year have seen ministers hand out just £143,000 extra for the North East.

Across the region councils have being setting out where the axe will fall, with the next three years likely to see the cuts total rising to more than £800m.

But after months of high level delegations taking part in desperate Whitehall lobbying missions, the coalition Government has increased the budget available to the region’s councils and fire brigade by an average of just £20,000 each.

The total amount for the region’s seven councils and Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service increased from £1,081,128 to £1,081,271, a rise of just 0.013%.

The final spending handout for 2014/15 will mean there is no way for councils to drop plans to axe Sure Start centres, make hundreds of redundancies or force up parking charges.

And plans to close down three fire stations will certainly go ahead after the Government announced the final funding settlement for Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue will see an increase of just £4,000, despite pleas for extra cash.

The North East has been lobbying against the perceived “unfairness” of the cuts since the coalition began axing budgets in 2010. Those efforts stepped up a gear in the last few months after yet more spending reductions for local government were announced in the autumn.

Included in the lobbying effort was work by the Association of North East Councils, which met with local government minister Brandon Lewis to put the case for a fairer funding settlement.

The extra £143,000 handed over as a result is considerably less than the money handed over each year by the region’s seven local authorities to the Association of North East Councils, with Northumberland alone having handed over more than £98,000 this financial year.

Last night former Newcastle Council leader Lord Beecham said it was clear the coalition was not interested in fairly funding local government in the North.

The peer said: “The Government has completely failed to redress the grossly unfair distribution of grant which hits Newcastle and other less-well off areas and benefits the more affluent.

“The extra we receive in the final settlement amounts to less than 25p per household per year and means that there is no protection from the tidal wave of cuts to services which the Government has launched.”

And Northumberland’s Labour council leader Grant Davey said: “It’s disappointing that, yet again, the coalition have failed to listen to Northumberland and have shaved a minute £18,000 from cuts to services worth £32.5m this year.

“Many would say such a derisory figure is an insult to the residents of the county but it shows how little David Cameron and Nick Clegg think of the North East.

“It’s time our coalition MPs started to stand up for their county rather than sit quiet as Cameron and Clegg ravish the services their constituents rely on.”

Northumberland County Council is the only one in the region to put up council tax next year, rising by 1.99%, the maximum allowed without putting the increase to a local referendum.

The Government has pointed to a grant to freeze council tax in most other areas as one way in which many households will benefit from its funding settlement.

Announcing the final settlement, Mr Lewis said: “This settlement marks the second year of local business rates retention and we have again tried to be fair to all parts of the country whether north, south, rural or urban.

“Given the local flexibilities and freedoms that we have put in place, local councils should now work to support local enterprise, building more homes and backing local jobs, so that they can then invest the rewards of growth in local services and in lower taxes.”

Source – Newcastle Journal  17 Feb 2014