Austerity can mean different things to different people.
For those of us lucky enough to have decent jobs, a regular income and the education and skills to cope with a changing world, austerity means tightening the belt, being more careful and making small changes to our lifestyle.
But some people aren’t so lucky. When your job is so badly paid that you have to apply for housing benefit to pay the rent, when your pension is so meagre that you have to choose between heating and food, when you are relying on free school meals to feed your children and on food banks in the school holidays - then austerity is a frightening prospect and the choices are very limited.
That’s why the role of local government is so important. For people who are struggling to make ends meet, for people who have had a difficult start in life - the role of local government is to provide that space, that extra help, that cushion of support that allows everyone to have the opportunity to get on and succeed.
Decent housing, safe clean streets, good schools, job opportunities, care for the elderly, welfare support, strong communities, active voluntary groups, well maintained parks.
In every aspect of people’s lives, local councils are working hard to provide those precious services that mean so much for our residents.
We know we have to find different ways of working - and we welcome the challenge. Moving from being providers of services to commissioning services means focusing on outcomes, on what’s important and makes a difference. Sharing services with other boroughs means learning from the best and sharing good practice.
And when that also means saving money, reducing our expenditure - then so much the better.
We accept that we have to do our fair share in reducing public expenditure and working more efficiently. We know from experience that joining up public services - health, police, the community sector - and working together will save money and produce better results.
We know that most government departments are being asked to cut back - and we are no different. The difference is the scale.
Look at the figures from the latest Spending Review and the cuts in real terms between now and 2019.. Home Office – minus 5%. Work & Pensions – minus 15%. BIS - minus 16%. DCLG - Dept of Communities and Local Government - minus 56%!!
There is no other government department which is being squeezed out of existence like DCLG. There is no other part of the public sector which is being sucked dry like local government.
But I’m giving you devolution, cries George Osborne. I’m allowing you to keep the business rates. I’m handing over more services for you to deliver and I’ll let you put up council tax to pay them. It won’t cover all the cost of course - not even close - but you wanted more powers and responsibilities so here you are. You’ll get the blame when it goes wrong, not me.
So the Public Health grant gets cut. The Education Services grant gets cut. By 2020 there will be a £4.3 billion black hole in funding of adult social care across the country.
Here in Sutton we’re being allowed to put up Council Tax by an extra 2% to fund adult social care. An extra 2% will bring in £1.6m – yet central government funding is being reduced in Sutton this coming year by £9m. Not our problem say David and George. All in the name of this deceit of devolution.
It makes me so very angry. Because real devolution could help resolve the problem of austerity and provide better outcomes.
The end of the top-down, centralised, one size fits all culture in this country could allow local areas, local communities and local councils to find exciting new solutions that are tailor made to their particular needs
True devolution means devolving powers and responsibilities. It means recognising that different communities have different priorities. It means trusting people and giving them the power to make decisions about the things that matter to them.
All over the country local councils of every different political colour - unitaries and districts, counties and metropolitans - are raising their voices in protest. Protest against this lie of localism. Protest against the savagery of the cuts to vital local government services.
I hope you will all join us
I hope you will support the motion