There has been a drip, drip, drip of half-announcements and carefully couched Government ministerial statements, to soften us all up to fear the very worst.
Such as the idea floated at the weekend that Chancellor Gideon Osborne has discovered, within weeks of delivering his “emergency” Budget with its eye-wateringly painful 25 per cent public spending cuts, that in fact he needs to axe a ball-grabbing 40 per cent.
Some of the announcements of cuts have taken even loyal members of the caring, sharing Coalition Government by surprise.
Before the election, Gavin Barwell, now Conservative MP for Croydon Central, was predicting that Labour’s Building Schools for the Future spending programme would be safe in this borough, where extensive re-building plans had been laid by the Tory council. Yesterday, Education Minister Michael Gove axed the £350 million spend in Croydon.
We should learn more hard details about how the Government’s cuts will impact Croydon’s other spending next Monday, when the new Council’s Cabinet meets to discuss a range of hot issues, including the 22 per cent wage hike for council leader Mike Fisher and his acolytes have decided to award themselves.
The first signs are that Council employees, Croydon’s schools and voluntary organisations, and even local builders, will all suffer most as a result of Government cuts.
In nearby Lewisham, elected Mayor Sir Steve Bullock has been warning his local taxpayers that the cuts will be “shocking”, and that his borough’s economy could suffer a “double whammy” of deep cuts in services and widespread job losses among those employed by the borough. The points he makes could easily be applied to Croydon.
“These are the worst cuts in living memory – worse than under Margaret Thatcher,” he said.
Unfortunately, the likes of Gove, a one-time left-wing union activist, are too young to have any understanding at all what living in divisive Thatcher’s Britain was like.
Yesterday Gove announced the axing of rebuilding grants for 700 schools on the grounds that the scheme is “inflexible and needlessly complex”. Yet no expense is spared for his own pet project, “Free Schools”, a sort of state-funding for independent schools.
[Note for context about “Man of the People” Gove, who wrote for the “top people’s paper”, Rupert Murdoch’s The Times, before becoming MP for Surrey Heath, a constituency without any “inner city” considerations: Gove attended one of Scotland’s leading private schools and went to Oxford.]
Croydon, and therefore the local building industry, had been promised £350 million by the previous Labour Government under Building Schools for the Future. This would have paid towards the building of a school in the north of the borough, relocating Addington High, and rebuilding Archbishop Tenison’s, St Mary’s and St Andrew’s schools. All the schemes could now be shelved.
And despite “Call Me Dave” Cameron’s “Big Society” idea, the Croydon Guardian is reporting that the borough’s charities and voluntary sector will be “left devastated” as they are cast adrift from their vital local grants as the Council seeks to make a further £700 million-worth of cuts.
“The Council has funded up to 100 voluntary organisations, from community karate clubs to volunteers caring for the elderly and vulnerable,” the report says.
But, “Out of 126 organisations who applied to receive council grants, only six have guaranteed funding totalling £625,000 a year for the next four years.”
That would represent a 66 per cent cut in funding to the borough’s voluntary organisations, who at present receive £1.8 million a year from the Council.
Only Croydon Voluntary Action, Croydon BME Forum, Croydon Asian Resource Centre, the Croydon Disability Forum, Croydon Neighbourhood Watch and the Citizens Advice Bureau will continue to receive funds.
According to Councillor Vidhi Mohan, the Cabinet member for stronger communities, “I think this shows our commitment to supporting the voluntary sector as much as possible.” With commitment like that…
Another part of the Council’s “solution” to its reduced Exchequer funding is the privatisation of a range of local services, outsourcing some of its functions to commercial organisations. It is something already done with leisure services.
Some voluntary organisations will be invited to bid to provide services to Council departments, and the Council is to form a local authority trading company for adult services and housing.