Local government has borne the brunt of austerity, and this week we saw some councils in the region begin to make announcements about how they will try to cope with further central government cuts in the new year. The scale of cuts to our councils is eye-watering, and there has been significant media attention in Manchester, Salford, Cumbria and Trafford – to name just four councils.
Once again, our branches are faced with incredibly difficult meetings with employers, where there are only unpalatable options available. Price Waterhouse Coopers used to talk about how the public sector should ‘do more with less’ – now they talk about ‘doing less with less’. Funding pressures on councils now mean that they struggle even to perform only their statutory duties.
For every £1 received by councils in 2010/11, they got just 73.6p in 2013/14. This is before the effects of inflation are taken into account. This funding cut has led to the slashing of the local government workforce from 2.9m to 2.4m. In total, the government plans to slash grants to councils by £11.3bn by 2015/16, while cuts in the top rate of income and corporation tax have squandered £9bn a year.
The cuts have hit hardest on the North West region, on more deprived areas and on women.
Researchers at Sheffield University have shown that the average council spending cut is £130 per person. It is highest in the North West at £235 and lowest in the South East at £74.
This regional disparity reflects differences in deprivation. The top 10% most deprived areas have had a funding reduction of £228 per person whereas the most affluent 10% have seen £45 reduction on average.
As part of the union’s ‘The Damage’ series, recent research shows how women have been hit by cuts to leisure centres, parks, children’s centres, community centres and street lighting. Women have also been hit as employees through low pay, rising workloads and the continued threat of redundancy.
In the difficult meetings with councils ahead, our branches will be working tirelessly to protect jobs and services. It cannot be acceptable for councils to build up reserves as local services crumble and struggle. We need councils to approach the implementation of these cuts with great care and to work with the trade unions and the community to minimise the harm caused.