What should progressive councils be doing now?


3:00 pm - March 17th 2011

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Contribution by Cllr Michael Desmond

There has been little room for philosophy during the recent mayhem of council cuts, budget reductions and staff lay-offs. The nearest thing has been Barnet Council’s unedifying dalliance with budget airline theory, the controversial “easyCouncil”, where only bare essentials are done and costs restrained, which saw planners on strike yesterday.

Some Tory flagship authorities have combined back-room roles to limit administrative costs, and Labour councils have juggled meagre settlements to limit and in some cases avoid, cuts to front-line services. Of course, this is by no means the first time local authorities have had to face the music; but we haven’t seen anything like the savage climate induced by Eric Pickles’ hatchet since the 1970s.

Although there’s a great deal of scrutiny in local government, there’s not much strategic thinking. Take ATMs: few are available in inner cities other than privately-owned ones charging £1.75 or more; taking a tenner out costs the equivalent of the old VAT rate. Civic centres are often glossy with state of the art lighting and tiled floors but many libraries are run-down, lacking coffee shops and social facilities, rarely augmented by other important community resources.

Even public parks, the most socialist of communal facilities, have hiked charges for football and cricket pitches, tennis courts and other amenities, showing a disturbing propensity towards capitalist book-balancing.

In the current climate progressive authorities should adopt a different ethos based on need, co-operation, mutuality and yes, if necessary, voluntary work, but not the nauseating big society. Rather than allow an environment where Capita, Serco and other private outsourcing contractors rake in profits, we should create our own John Lewis/Waitrose-like entities between and within councils, mutually owed and administered. We also need to look at how bailiffs behave collecting debts for councils, as recent publicity about their tactics and objectives make unedifying reading.

EasyCouncils are not the answer: social workers need adequate resources, as do schools resisting the lucre of academy status. Streets need to be cleaned, rubbish collected. Cuts are inevitable, both locally and nationally, but a new needs-based approach, different methods of outsourcing to mutuals and a coherent approach to strategy is long overdue. In short, what’s needed is a new, progressive philosophy for local service delivery.

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Reader comments


Libraries lacking coffee shops and “social facilities” you say? Good.

Otherwise what you are advocating is nothing other than the “nauseating” big society.

2. Ellie Cumbo

cjcjc:

“Otherwise what you are advocating is nothing other than the “nauseating” big society.”

Er, try again – the Big Society is about relying on volunteers without proper investment. This article suggests an alternative – what’s your idea?

3. Chaise Guevara

” Take ATMs: few are available in inner cities other than privately-owned ones charging £1.75 or more”

Where is this the case? In my experience, the only times you find yourself forced to use a private ATM is when you’re on private property (like a pub) or a dedicated retail park or service station, and even then it’s the exception rather than the rule. Generally the service charge is the price you pay for not wanting to go down the road and queue at a free ATM. Banks, post offices and shopping centres generally have free cash machines, and I’ve even seen them inside shops.

Secondly: unless you count the (already free) post office ATMs, does the government actually manage cash machines anyway? I thought they were run by private companies. Shops without a nearby ATM sell less stock; banks that don’t provide enough ATMs find it hard to compete.

I agree with you overall, just not sure on this point.

“Labour councils have juggled meagre settlements to limit and in some cases avoid, cuts to front-line services”

You mean like in Manchester and Haringey?

http://thepotterblogger.blogspot.com/2011/03/tale-of-two-councils.html

If anything, the evidence I’ve seen indicates that a lot of Labour councils are deliberately being brutal in cutting services, simply so they can use it as political ammunition against the coalition.

“If anything, the evidence I’ve seen indicates that a lot of Labour councils are deliberately being brutal in cutting services, simply so they can use it as political ammunition against the coalition.”

I know that this really rather repulsive smear came from your leader, but may I enquire whether you’ve got any additional “evidence” for this apart from your analysis which showed, once you corrected your numbers, that Manchester had to make £25 million more in cuts than Sheffield as a result of central government decisions despite having a smaller and more deprived population?

I’d be fascinated, for example, to see the alternative budget proposals from Manchester Liberal Democrats which, presumably, set out how the council could save £109 million in the next year without cutting frontline services, given your theory that the cuts were politically motivated?

@1 – he was advocating councils create their own entities and organisations rather than contract services out to existing ones. A small but subtle difference.

So for example rather than leave a library entirely in the hands of volunteers who start with no money, experience or guidance to keep something open, what they can do is create a new organisation to run them. Give then 100% of costs in year 1, 80% year 2, 60% year 3 etc. They then operate at arms length and bridge the funding gap through cafes, renting out rooms etc. But because this is done more slowly, it becomes doable. The year zero approach just leaves things closed.

@5

Manchester is still spending more per head and receiving more government funding than Sheffield despite having a lower population and similar demographics.

They are also both getting a similar percentage cut in funding. You would expect Manchester to be making worse cuts but nothing near as bad as they are. However, if you want to debate this in detail please do so on my blog.

Incidentally, I note you haven’t replied to the email I sent to Lib Con – I understand if you don’t want to run it but an email to let me know would be appreciated.

Hi George,

Sorry, didn’t see your email, could you resend to donpaskini at liberalconspiracy dot org ?

George

I am with Don you have no evidence at all to back up Cleggy boys smear. You will, in common with other Lib Dems, will do anything to try and deflect from your part in the vandalism of public services that you are enabling.

Kind of like the MPs who are voting with the Government on the health bill, against the wishes of your conference.

“If anything, the evidence I’ve seen indicates that a lot of Labour councils are deliberately being brutal in cutting services, simply so they can use it as political ammunition against the coalition.”

Yeah, you should probably get someone to explain the meaning of the phrase “evidence I’ve seen” to you, George. You see, what you appear to have done there is confuse it with the, admittedly similar, phrase “shit I’ve made up” as in:

“If anything, the shit I’ve made up indicates that a lot of Labour councils are deliberately being brutal in cutting services, simply so they can use it as political ammunition against the coalition.”

Don’t beat yourself up about it, it’s an easy mistake to make.

And you don’t need to thank me. I’m just glad I could help.

@5

Here’s the only thing I could find about the Lib Dem alternative budget for Manchester:

“In their alternative budget Lib Dems proposed that £12.2 million, just over 10 per cent of the planned cuts, should be rescued through several measures including cutting £2 million from consultants and council communications and sharing more services with local authorities. Additional income could be budgeted, it was claimed, by anticipating future revenue from schemes such as extending licensing for landlords across the city.”

@10

Tell you what, you go and spend five hours trawling through Sheffield and Manchester council websites for data on their economies, demographics and budgets. Then you make a comparison and tell me why it is that Sheffield are doing far more with far less for more people.

Go on, if you don’t believe my statistics then go and double check them. If my figures turn out to be wrong then I’ll be more than happy to reconsider my opinion.

Until then, shut the fuck up and stop being so damn insulting.

P.S.

Getting over your petty minded tribalism would also be a start.

So the lib dems agreed on £97 million of cuts in Manchester? Doesn’t that undermine the idea that the cuts were politically motivated to maximize harm to front line services?

George, the ‘labour councils cut frontline services to spite the government’ is tribal conspiracy theory nonsense. Your contributions on other subjects are always thoughtful and well argued, but this one is worth dropping.

Oh, George, you’re getting all tense and sweary, aren’t you?

“Go on, if you don’t believe my statistics …..” who mentioned statistics? Data on spending patterns across two councils prove nothing whatsoever about the motivation behind those spending patterns, Still less do they prove anything about the motivation behind spending patterns in councils for which you haven’t spent “five hours trawling through … council websites for data on their economies, demographics and budgets.”

No, old chap, statements about the motivation behind the spending patterns of councils which you make without any direct evidence to support them* fall into the category of “shit that George just made up.”

Oh, and if you don’t want people to be insulting then the best course of action would probably be to stop making shit up and posting it on internet websites. Just a suggestion. Hope you find it helpful.

* I should probably point out that direct evidence of Labour Councils deliberately making cuts in order to make the Condems look bad would be something like a copy of a top secret email from a Labour Council leader saying something along the lines of “Hey guys, let’s make a load of massive cuts to essential services so that the Condems look bad.” It wouldn’t be the idiosyncratic interpretation of council expenditure based on a quick look at a few websites by a, shall we say, charming old eccentric.

@12

There’s a huge difference in the size of the cuts and how they impact. For example, my own council had a choice between saving £50k per year either by scrapping the council newspaper or by closing a centre for the elderly. Sadly, they chose the latter.

If you look at the updated version of my post (updated as in it includes a third table) you will see quite clearly that Manchester already spent more than Sheffield to provide fewer services to less people. Now, some variation is to be expected, but are you really telling me that it is impossible for Manchester to deliver less harmful cuts when they have more money to spend and fewer services to run than Sheffield?

Seriously, if this is a tribal conspiracy theory then explain to me why there’s such a difference. And explain to me why, despite another party identifying how over £12 million could be rescued, they decided not to adopt that change?

I’m sorry, but what Manchester is doing is blatantly political. And the hypocrisy is astounding. In Manchester Labour and local unions place all the blame for the cuts on the government but in Sheffield Labour and the local unions place all the blame entirely on the local council. There’s no denying that lots of places are facing severe cuts in funding. But as Balls and Miliband keep saying, you can make cuts without destroying essential services. Maybe their fellow party members should take a leaf out of their book.

@13

I’m not tense at all, I’m merely using the same type of language as you used.

You’re quite right in that I can’t say what the motivation behind the specific cuts are. Not that that stops people such as yourself labelling every coalition cut as “ideological”. However, what I can say for certain is that:

a) Manchester is making far more brutal cuts than Sheffield despite both being, overall, in a similar position (if you don’t believe me, check my blogpost – it’s been updated with more data)
b) Manchester Labour is making political capital out of these cuts by laying all the blame squarely on the government

Draw from that whatever conclusions you like.

@12

P.S. when it comes to “tribal conspiracy” my position is this. I am a reasonable man. I accept that I may be wrong and therefore I listen to opposing viewpoints. Similarly, I do not hold it as an article of faith that my party’s councillors are infallible. I know of one Lib Dem council, though I forget it’s name, which is terrible. If I lived there, I would not vote for them. If the situations in Manchester and Sheffield were reversed politically then I would be praising Labour and castigating the Lib Dems. What would you be doing?

“I’m not tense at all”

Really? Are you sure?

“Until then, shut the fuck up and stop being so damn insulting.”

Looks as though you are. Then again, I’m sure you know best.

” I’m merely using the same type of language as you used.”

Not really. I said you were making shit up. I’m not sure that qualifies as being in quite the same class as “shut the fuck up.”

“You’re quite right in that I can’t say what the motivation behind the specific cuts are. ”

Hmm, that’s pretty much the point I was making. You’re obviously rather confused. You see:

“a lot of Labour councils are deliberately being brutal in cutting services, simply so they can use it as political ammunition against the coalition.”

is pretty obviously a statement about the motivation behind the cuts. Are you SURE you know what the word “motivation” actually MEANS? Maybe you should get someone to explain it to you.

“Not that that stops people such as yourself labelling every coalition cut as “ideological”. ”

And what kind of people would people such as myself be? You see, George, you don’t know anything about me other than that I’ve written a series of posts ridiculing you. You don’t know if I’m male, female, gay, straight, old or young. You certainly know nothing whatsoever about my political views or even if I actually have any. Do you? Let me help you, the correct answer is “no I don’t. I was making shit up again.”

@4: “If anything, the evidence I’ve seen indicates that a lot of Labour councils are deliberately being brutal in cutting services, simply so they can use it as political ammunition against the coalition.”

The LibDem controlled Sutton Council is closing its last specialist care home for the aged with dementia. But not to worry, the Council voted to proceed with a £14 million revamp for the council’s civic offices.

@17

I don’t know much about Sutton but if what you say is true then the Lib Dems running the council are doing a bad job and shouldn’t be spending such large amounts of money while cutting vital services.

“… if what you say is true then the Lib Dems running the council are doing a bad job and shouldn’t be spending such large amounts of money while cutting vital services.”

Fair enough. When a Liberal Council is doing a bad job, they’re doing a bad job. When a Labour Council is doing a bad job, it’s a deliberate attempt to smear the Condems by making people suffer.

Don’t tell me, George, that’s just the kind of thing you’d expect “people like me” to say.

20. buck damp leather

An ignorant and poorly informed article as ever.

“Even public parks, the most socialist of communal facilities” – Britain’s public parks have little or nothing to thank socialism for. Britain’s public parks were created largely by Victorian capitalist philantropists.

I was in a ‘communist’ state last year – West Bengal – in Calcutta you have pay to enter the park.

Can’t we have some intelligent writing on this website as opposed to this drivel??

21. Ellie Cumbo

buck damp leather

“Can’t we have some intelligent writing on this website as opposed to this drivel??”

Well, apparently not from you. Firstly, you can’t tell the difference between socialist and Communist; secondly you’ve opted to comment on one word (which you evidently don’t understand) instead of the actual article.

Please come back with something a little more constructive – or, you know, don’t.


Reactions: Twitter, blogs
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  2. DaveHill

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  3. biggervoice

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  4. ambushpredator

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  5. elliecumbo

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  6. nonamesleft999

    RT @libcon: What should progressive councils be doing now? http://bit.ly/eGWQHt

  7. blogs of the world

    There has been little room for philosophy during the recent mayhem of council cuts, budget… http://reduce.li/07enp2 #council

  8. Daniel Pitt

    What should progressive councils be doing now? http://bit.ly/eGWQHt #ConDemNation





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