'Making the Best of an Impossible Situation'

Ealing's Council Leader Julian Bell writes:

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Ealing's Council Leader Julian Bell writes

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Resident's Council Tax bills will be dropping through letter boxes shortly and the good news is that they will be frozen for a record seventh year. We know that people have been having a tough time since the international financial crisis hit, with real wages down and the cost of living up, so it is definitely the right decision, notwithstanding the horrendous cuts to our budgets from the Tory led government that we are trying to deal with.

That said we are in unchartered waters when it comes to Town Hall finances. Over the period 2010-2018/19 we will have had our budget cut by £183m. That is a reduction of more than 50%. This is unprecedented and although we managed over the last four years to make £87m of cuts relatively painlessly through efficiencies this is not possible going forward as we work to find another £96m. There will be real pain and we are having to make some very difficult decisions to either change or stop services.

This is most pronounced when we are dealing with services to the young and elderly. Around two thirds of our budget is spent on adults and children's services so given the scale of the Tory and LibDem government cuts it is not possible to totally protect these services from the impact, much as we would like to. If we tried to we would have to stop all our other services completely and we would still not be able to balance our books. Which brings me on to our local Tories and LibDems.

Given they are in opposition locally and not having to make any actual decisions and a general election is approaching they are saying just about anything and acting in a wholly dishonest way. Dishonest because it is their national parties that have chosen to cut local government budgets so savagely as a result of their own economic mismanagement. It is like the person who has committed the crime putting a fake arm of compassion around the victim while berating the emergency services who are trying to protect the victim and minimise the impacts of the crime.

I've already previously highlighted their biggest lie, that local government is actually receiving more money but even they now seem embarrassed to parrot that one any more. No the next line is more subtle and it is that we are finding 53% of their government's cuts from the Adults, Children and Families budget and closing down day care centres implying that we are targeting the vulnerable.

The 53% figure is factually true because of what I have already explained about this budget being nearly two thirds of our total budget but, as with the previous round of cuts, we are taking proportionately less from Adults and Children's and deliberately protecting them from the worst ravages of the Tory led government's cuts. All other Council departments are having their net budgets cut by just over 50% while Adults and Children's by just under 30%.

On day care centres we are changing the way we provide day care and some centres will close BUT no closures will go ahead until adequate alternative provision is put in place and we are also now able to keep the Solace Centre open which was always our hope.

Making the decisions in local government at the moment has never been tougher but by freezing the Council Tax and protecting the most vulnerable from the worst impacts of the Tory led government's colossal cuts we are making the best of an impossible situation.

Julian Bell

17th March 2015