There was once a young Shepherd Boy who tended his sheep at the foot of a mountain near a dark forest. It was rather lonely for him all day, so he thought upon a plan by which he could get a little company and some excitement. He rushed down towards the village calling out "Wolf, Wolf," and the villagers came out to meet him, and some of them stopped with him for a considerable time. This pleased the boy so much that a few days afterwards he tried the same trick, and again the villagers came to his help.
The Communities and Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles finds himself reminded of this fable when listening to some of the complaints from council leaders.
Mr Pickles has a point.
In 2010, Cllr Paul Carter, the leader of Kent County Council said that spending cuts of 7.1% were "a real sledgehammer blow." He finished the year with an £8.2 million underspend. By 2011 his tone was more measured and said the cuts would be "challenging".
This is not the only subject where Cllr Carter has spread alarm. He also warned against free schools and academies. He said rather than have a variety of schools Kent needed a "coherent education system" – on which logic he would also ban fee paying schools since they are also beyond the county council's clutches. Cllr Carter pleaded with Kent schools not to become academies, sending them a misleading letter. The letter was duly noted – and the mass exodus proceeded with. Nearly 100 schools in Kent are now academies – some Conservatives regard this as a matter for celebration.
But back to the subject of spending cuts, Cllr Carter says that his council "can't cope" with any more cuts and is "running on empty."
Kent County Council is not running on empty. It is running on over £900 million a year. Cllr Carter has not yet felt the situation is so tight that he has made savings on the £191,000 of Kent Council Taxpayers money spent of funded union officials.
What is a pity is that by moaning about how difficult it all is, Cllr Carter detracts from the achievement in local government in cutting spending and improving services.
For instance he has said of his own budget proposals:
We know that older people would rather stay at home than go into care, which is also expensive to provide. So by re-arranging and investing in services to help and support older people to live in their own homes for longer, we will consequently reduce the need for expensive residential care. This sort of transformational change is a win win, as we give individuals the service they want and save public money.
He calls his budget proposals "Facing the Challenge." Of course any Tory council leader can get a hearing in the media for scaremongering. But it is not something that they should indulge in.