Now even Croydon’s usually pliant and loyal Tory council is getting on Big Eric Pickles’ case over the “front-loading” of the coalition government cuts in grants to local authorities.
“Front-loading” is where Pickles’ communities and local government department, in demanding drastic reductions in spending by local councils, has not spread the cuts out over the four-year period, but instead walloped them all in this financial year and next (2011-2012).
Richard Kemp, the vice-chairman of the Local Government Association, has described the government’s approach thus:
“This front-loading means councils do not have the lead-in time necessary to re-engineer services on a lower cost base and ease staff cuts without forced, expensive redundancies.
“Inexplicably, local government is also being denied the opportunity to spread the cost of reorganisation and downsizing over several years – at no cost to central government – which just makes even bigger in-year cuts inevitable.”
Kemp, it ought to be noted, is a senior member of the Liberal Democrats, one of the parties in the ruling national coalition.
And now, even Conservative-run Croydon Council has openly criticised the front-loading of the government’s cuts.
This morning, Croydon posted its Budget report for the coming year (click here for the full 40 pages pdf). The report’s author is the council employee, deputy chief executive Nathan Elvery.
In the appendices (to be found online here), there are a number of pleadings, to be made to central government on behalf of Croydon, including this:
“We are extremely disappointed with the front-loading of the reductions in local government funding. Front-loading is unwelcome as it does not allow authorities to plan in a strategic way. There was no indication that the CSR [comprehensive spending review, as published by Gideon Osborne in the autumn] would be front-loaded and which was not actually revealed until four months before the beginning of the financial year. This has distorted our strategic planning in terms of efficiencies and our step-change programme (transformational programme).
“As part of our step-change programme we have therefore been forced to instigate a programme of voluntary early severance [meaning: hundreds of local job cuts] to enable us to make the
necessary level of budget reductions for 2011/12.
“Croydon asks that the Minister seeks a change in the timing of funding reductions so they are no longer front loaded and are in line with the ‘average loss of grant of 7.25%, in real terms in each of the next four years’ (Eric Pickles letter to Leaders of English Local Authorities, 20 October 2010).”
One or two other points worth noting:
- These local government cuts will affect those in England, but Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland operate under a separate system.
- Cuts to less-well-off boroughs as proposed by the government are harsher than those imposed on more rural councils, in some cases of nearly 9 per cent. London boroughs have been particularly badly hit.
- Meanwhile, Dorset gets a 0.25 per cent increase in funding and Windsor and Maidenhead, West Sussex, Wokingham, Richmond upon Thames and Buckinghamshire all get cuts of 1 per cent or less.
- In its documents, Croydon makes the case that the borough has many more demands on its services since a large part of the borough is more inner-city than leafy commuter belt.
Of course, despite recommending to next Monday’s Cabinet meeting cuts in local services of the order of 25 per cent, the budget report’s recommendation on council tax is no increase at all.
Isn’t this just a tad irresponsible, given the financial circumstances?
Surely, a 0 per cent council tax increase is almost 3 per cent below the rate of inflation? The council’s own report suggests that local authorities are likely to be even worse affected by inflation, what with the government’s VAT increase to 20 per cent.
Since Croydon has recently claimed to be the council that listens to its residents, then shouldn’t it have heeded its own consultation process?
Carried out online just before Christmas, the council dressed up the serious business of balancing services and cuts with what appeared to be a new computer game. It was also one of these computer games that don’t work properly.
The process was so slow and tedious, less than half the 2,500 who tried to use the council’s computer program managed to get all the way to the end. Yet the 1,000 respondents who did manage to complete the online survey largely backed a (albeit modest) increase in council tax to avoid some of the harsher cuts in services.
Surely Croydon Council is not proposing a 0 per cent Council Tax increase just for the sake of political dogma?
4pm UPDATE: Quick as a flash, Inside Croydon‘s regular reader phoned through to offer an answer to our final, rhetorical question.
Poor Croydon Council can’t win any way it turns, because any Council Tax rise of up to 2.5 per cent will be penalised with an equivalent loss of grant from central government, while any increase above that level would simply be unacceptable to local residents
This, Big Eric’s department characterises as “Local residents to benefit from council tax freeze”. From where we’re sitting, it looks more like Croydon residents hit by a 25 per cent rise in council tax, as we pay the same amount for considerably less services. With the exception of our glorious £450 million new Council Hub.
So much for delegating responsibility to local councils, eh, Eric…