Eric Pickles’ crusade in Whitehall is being exposed for its unfairness


1:49 pm - February 10th 2011

by Sunder Katwala    


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Many of the most senior Liberal Democrats in local government have attacked the government’s local government spending settlement, publicly declaring no confidence in the fairness of the government’s approach to cuts and in Communities Secretary Eric Pickles who the LibDems accuse of “gunboat diplomacy” in an extraordinary letter to The Times (£).

As The Times reports (£):

The grassroots of the Liberal Democrats have declared open revolt over the scale and pace of cuts to frontline local services.

In a serious blow to the unity of the coalition, 88 Liberal Democrat council chiefs have written to The Times today warning that services for the most vulnerable will have to be cut. The 17 local authority leaders and 71 local party heads say that the spending reductions are too big and are being implemented too quickly.

Local government is the powerbase of Nick Clegg’s party and the move suggests that loyalty to the leadership has been strained to the limit.

The Communities and Local Government Secretary was also yesterday being criticised and briefed against by senior Conservatives in Downing Street for his approach to cuts which endanger the big society.

But Pickles has stonewalled Downing Street plans to save the Big Society, as well as the repeated calls from councils not to front-load the deep cuts in the local government settlement.

The BBC ten o’clock news last night highlighted just how much the new local government settlement will hit poorer areas harder, with BBC home affairs editor Mark Easton showing that the cuts will be worth £210 per adult in deprived Hackney compared to £2.86 per person in affluent East Dorset.

Those councils with high levels of deprivation, and so which are more dependent on grant funding from central government to reduce inequalities, are being hit very hard, while councils which have a strong local economic base from which to raise their own resources will be relatively protected.

A ministerial source tells Easton that the government’s intention was to “unwind the process” whereby more deprived areas got more support under Labour. This government thinks that was unfair, and so is seeking to reduce the amount of redistribution towards poor areas in the local government settlement.

The argument highlights an ideological clash between fairness as promoting redistribution and equal opportunities between more and less deprived parts of the country, and fairness as localism, in proposing that different areas should get to keep more of their own resources.

There is a political dimension too. By proposing a formula which will hit poorer areas harder, the government is doing more to protect areas of Conservative political strength and to hurt Labour ones, showing how the pattern of public spending and cuts could well increase geographical polarisation in British politics.


A longer version is at Next Left

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About the author
Sunder Katwala is a regular contributor to Liberal Conspiracy. He is the director of British Future, a think-tank addressing identity and integration, migration and opportunity. He was formerly secretary-general of the Fabian Society.
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Story Filed Under: Blog ,Conservative Party ,Economy ,Westminster

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Reader comments


About time.

The Lie Dems have only a few hours to save themselves. Their leader is a brownshirt, and the sooner they wake up and understand the better. Their Bank Lord resigned yesterday, how much more embarrassment can they take?

At the moment a good slogan for the next election is “Vote Lie Dem get brownshirts.”

Cuts in public spending affect areas more reliant on public spending more than they affect areas less reliant? You amaze me!

@1:

“Their leader is a brownshirt… Vote Lie Dem get brownshirts”

Good heavens, Godwinned in the first post. This must be some sort of record.

@3 It’s sally, what else do you expect?

Fat Eric is doing much the same as he did when leader of Bradford Council between September 1988 and May 1990 – all the most severe cuts came at the beginning, along with lots of price increases and job losses. Mrs T was all in favour:

http://bit.ly/f59P43
http://bit.ly/exjrPu

Fortunately, his regime did not survive the following round of elections, and outside London but within England, right now that means next May:

http://zelo.tv/gAu1Sx

@2 Tim J

“Cuts in public spending affect areas more reliant on public spending more than they affect areas less reliant? You amaze me!”

Tim J says “let them eat cake!”

Stun me with another.

6 – It’s not callousness so much as weariness at statements of the obvious. If you cut public spending, the people most affected will be people who rely on public spending.

If you cut disability benefit, the people most affected will be people who rely on disability benefit. And so on and so on.

None of this should come as any sort of surprise. Wealthy areas rely less on public spending, and will thus be less affected by cuts. This isn’t even ‘man bites dog’; it’s ‘man is man’.

“None of this should come as any sort of surprise”

Which is why your own party should stop pretending that we are all in this together.

8 – the rich have had their taxes raised, the poor have had their benefits cut. Cutting a structural deficit as large as this one requires increases in revenue and decreases in spending. All 3 parties were promising cuts of reasonably similar sizes, using broadly similar rhetoric – “savage cuts” “swingeing cuts” “cuts bigger than Thatcher”. It’s simply not possible to cut public spending on this scale in such a way that people who use public spending won’t notice. Equally, all 3 parties would have raised VAT in exactly the same way.

(I’m aware that Labour now pretend that they wouldn’t cut – or that they would, but not this, or this, or in fact anything that the Govt suggests. But if they were in Govt they would be doing basically exactly the same thing. That’s what happens when your public finances are fucked.)

In opposition (whether in parliament or not) it can be an irresistable temptation to pull the bedsheets over your head and pretend that this could all be sorted out by taxing ‘the rich’ or shaking the money tree. In Govt that’s not really an option.

@ 7 Tim J

“It’s not callousness so much as weariness at statements of the obvious”

Ah… so it is a BIT callous then… at least we see you for what you are I guess, which is rare enough these days!

Of course the issue at point isn’t obvious either: the speed of cuts, their extent and the relative balance between cuts and tax rises were and are by no means obvious.

The fact that the 3 major parties broadly agreed tells us nothing more than that they have all fallen for the same narrative, it doesn’t necessarily make it right, or the only option.

“A ministerial source tells Easton that the government’s intention was to “unwind the process” whereby more deprived areas got more support under Labour. This government thinks that was unfair, and so is seeking to reduce the amount of redistribution towards poor areas in the local government settlement. ”

Err, yes?

The last government did increase the amount taxed from richer areas to send to poorer areas. Very much so in the case of the central grants to councils.

This government wishes to reverse that redistribution.

My oh my, the massacre of the innocents: we’re all the way back to 1997 again…..

“t by taxing ‘the rich’ or shaking the money tree.In Govt that’s not really an option.”

Cut to defence: 7%
Cut to welfare: 30%

That’s the result of choices and priorities of government. Reverse those figures and you start to become a bit more credible if you state the aim is to protect the vulnerable and we are all in this together.

12 – We’re actually at war at the moment – another part of the Govt’s inheritance that is less than optimal. Getting any defence cuts at all through Parl’t is tough. Cutting defence spending by a third while simultaneously fighting a war would simply not be achievable.

“Cutting defence spending by a third while simultaneously fighting a war would simply not be achievable.”

You may have noticed that a great deal of anti-cuts protestors were also against the war.

I’ll make it more simpler – the govts proposals to abolish the mobility component of DLA will save just £140 million. Are you seriously suggesting this saving couldn’t have been made elsewhere and keeping something that enables people to live independantly?

Galen10,

The fact that the 3 major parties broadly agreed tells us nothing more than that they have all fallen for the same narrative, it doesn’t necessarily make it right, or the only option.

Surely, if they all fell for the same ‘narrative’, it was the only option on offer.

15 ukliberty

Howso? Because they all fell in line doesn’t ipso facto make it the only possible option. What an odd way to think!

It’s another harrying of the North – a quite deliberate one. Meanwhile, atypical Conservative and LibDem councils parade their “superior” managerial powers seemingly demonstrated by their avoiding cuts, while making no mention of their higher than average income profile and rural more than urban coverage. Clear evidence that this is a politically inspired attack designed to further the neoliberal cause.

Galen10

Because they all fell in line doesn’t ipso facto make it the only possible option. What an odd way to think!

Who else can you vote for that could form a government?

19. DisgustedOfTunbridgeWells

Good heavens, Godwinned in the first post. This must be some sort of record.

Errrrrrrrm, that’s the exact opposite of Godwin.

18 ukliberty

My point was rather that the fact they agreed doesn’t make the chosen policy the correct one, nor does it mean there was no other option.

I agree that there was little choice on offer, but all that says is that the current moribund system needs to be changed. Thanks to the LibDems, it now appears the chances of even that are slipping through our fingers….

21. Cynical/Realist?

@13, yes of course you are right.

And disabling people in Afganistan is clearly more important than looking after disabled people at home after all. Will probably help encourage people to stop going round disabling themselves to get their grubby mits on my tax pennies anyway, selfish sods.

And cutting the costs of the war would be politcal suicide, because we all know its only the left-wing rent-a-mob who aren’t fully in support of this war. There’s been no sign of wanting to leave it from any other sections of society have there?

“The last government did increase the amount taxed from richer areas to send to poorer areas. Very much so in the case of the central grants to councils.

This government wishes to reverse that redistribution.”

That is because the Thatcher govt had been shitting on the poor for 18 years and left large parts of the north looking like a Rand dump.

The point is that the LIE Dems are going along with this clap trap. I ‘m sure all those ever so nice Lie Dem councillors are going to enjoy explaining the cuts to their wards.

Louis 16th “the rich have had their taxes raised, the poor have had their benefits cut”

A tiny tax raise for the rich, deep cuts for the poor. We are all not in this together.

What I’ve noticed is that what I predicted with a surfeit of cynicism several months ago is now occurring. Local government is cutting front line services and but back room jobs, of no great discernible benefit, don’t appear to be in the firing line.

@5 Tim Fenton

– 18 months at the helm at Bradford Council? I hadn’t realised that the Sontaran warrior had such a short lived time in charge. Seems he’s better at creating a name for headlines, but not very good at managing services over the long term.

@23 Falco,

Evidence please that no back room jobs are not being cut.

@23 Falco,

…And evidence please of back room jobs being of “no discernible benefit”. Generally a back room job will exist with the intention of enabling front line jobs remaining on the frontline.


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  1. Liberal Conspiracy

    Eric Pickles' crusade in Whitehall is being exposed for its unfairness http://bit.ly/fF5E6D

  2. Pauline Hammerton

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  3. Jane Howie

    Eric Pickles’ crusade in Whitehall is being exposed for its unfairness | Liberal Conspiracy http://t.co/T0nvjvw via @libcon

  4. Mancunian Candidate

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  5. downinjamaica

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  6. Double.Karma

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  7. Rachel Hubbard

    Eric Pickles’ crusade in Whitehall is being exposed for its unfairness | Liberal Conspiracy http://goo.gl/DDGXR





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