News last week that Torbay Council in Devon has become the fourth council in England to declare emergency financial controls will come as no surprise.
Many readers will have seen that Northamptonshire County Council has effectively gone bust and is now being run by Commissioners appointed by the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government.
There are many reasons why councils are suffering.
One of the main reasons is the cost of social care – looking after elderly residents who are not necessarily ill but are simply in need of care. As the population ages, so the cost of care increases. This year Cheshire West and Chester Council increased council tax, just to try to cover the cost, and many councils of all political colours are doing the same.
But the main and unescapable reason why councils are going bust is local government cuts.
The government sets business rates and these are collected centrally and then distributed to councils according to a formula also set by the government.
But the government has been reducing the amount of cash it gives to councils year on year, forcing them to make deeper and deeper cuts. In our area, we will have lost over £330 million in cash terms since 2010, which is a staggering figure. It means that by 2020 the government will be providing no direct revenue support funding to Cheshire West and Chester Council at all – not even one penny.
So higher costs and less and less money from the government creates the perfect storm for local councils, and they have had to implement cuts they might otherwise have chosen not to.
We are fortunate that our Council Leader, Samantha Dixon, has led a very prudent and responsible administration. She has balanced the budget year on year and kept us out of debt whilst maintaining services in some of the most critical areas.
Certainly, this has come at a cost – such as being forced to end the council subsidy for free car parking and reducing budgets in street care services for example.
But to be honest, if the choice is between an extra grass cut each year or maintaining support to vulnerable children, I know which I would choose.
Decent public services cost money. You can’t run a modern society on the cheap. Whether it is our schools running on shoestring budgets, our NHS surviving on the goodwill of its staff, or our police over stretched and not able to investigate crime properly, the effect is the same: cuts have consequences.
Local councils of all political colours are suffering, their services are suffering, but most of all – it is local residents who are suffering from central government cuts.