Why Labour will oppose the Tory ‘pay more, get less’ plan for councils

 In Articles, Speeches

This article was originally published on LabourList on 11 February 2016. You can view it here.

The Communities Secretary Greg Clark says he has protected funding for councils over the next four years, but no one left believes him, not even his own MPs.

The Tories’ latest round of cuts takes away £1 in every £3 given to councils to pay for core services. What that means is youth services shut down, streets left unswept, bins emptied less frequently, street lights turned off at night, libraries closed, and rural bus services taken away.

Even Tory MPs were frightened at how their voters would react once it became clear Osborne’s latest cuts were going to decimate local services. Even David Cameron’s mum signed a petition against the cuts in Oxfordshire. With council elections just weeks away across much of the country, the Government came up with a quick fix they hope will buy votes and buy off their rebellious MPs.

They conjured £300m out of thin air then showered the money over Tory-run councils in some of the wealthiest parts of the country to ease their pain. Despite the fact that poorer areas, many with Labour councils, have been cut to the bone over the past six years, they get next to nothing.

If the word gerrymander didn’t already exist we’d have to invent it to describe a fix like that.

It leaves Tory claims to be a ‘one nation’ government looking empty. Their Northern Powerhouse rhetoric looks more hollow than ever as those councils are left with nothing but yet more cuts. Leafy Surrey has seen an increase in Government funding over the past five years, yet they’ve been given £24m more. Meanwhile Liverpool, which has seen funding cut by £400 per person over the past five years, gets more cuts and no help. It’s the same story in Manchester, Birmingham, Newcastle and so many more who’ve been hit the hardest.

The Tories hope this multi-million pound sweetener ahead of May’s council elections will buy them votes and buy off their rebellious MPs. But even this amount of money can’t hide the devastation the Government is wreaking on our communities.

What makes the Tories’ cuts even more painful is they want to hike up council tax at the same time. Despite an election pledge to keep council tax low, the Government has written to councils telling them to put council tax up by over 20%, costing the average household over £300 more a year. Instead of helping protect vital local services, that money simply vanishes into the chancellor’s financial black hole. It still means services will face cuts, with care for older and disabled people hit hardest of all and left with a £1bn funding shortfall.

People will be paying much more, but it won’t mean their street gets swept more often, their bin emptied more regularly, their library kept open, or their elderly neighbours looked after properly. Tax payers will pay more but get less in return.

A 20% Tory council tax hike designed in Downing Street, services cut to the bone, and £300million hurled at a handful of wealthy areas in a desperate bid to buy off a bunch of Tory rebels. That is the story of this funding settlement, and is why Labour will voted against it yesterday.

The Tories are desperate to hide the truth ahead of this May’s council elections. You pay more but get less from this tax-hiking, pledge breaking, self-serving Government.