Cllr Phil Taylor, a Conservative councillor on Ealing, says talk of 30% cuts is misleading
So dear taxpayer the Government has decided on … a 26% cut for councils leading to fewer services, …
And so on he went through the butcher’s list of cuts. Earlier in the day the BBC was describing the cut as “almost 30% of council budgets”. This presentation of the numbers must be very worrying for many people and it is not very honest.
In my own council, Ealing, we have been planning for a cut of £53 million over three years. Now it looks like the cut will be fractionally less but over four years. This is just over one quarter of the council’s government grant. It is a lot of money but it is a smaller proportion of the council’s overall spending than you might think.
In addition to the council’s income from council tax many of its services, ranging from social care to parking, are charged for and have always been charged for. Last year my council spent £1,031 million on the revenue side and £151 million on the capital side. Our £53 million savings target is only 4.5% of that. Seen in the round this cut is not quite so harrowing. The axe not quite so bloody.
Dealing with this level of savings will be hard but it is manageable.
One area where all local authorities will be looking hard will be staff costs. In our council last year £346 million of our expenditure was attributable to this. Right now the London Fire Brigade and Birmingham City Council are having big battles with their staff over terms and conditions. Most private sector workers, typically paid less than their public sector neighbours, would look askance at local authority terms and conditions.
An extra couple of public holidays, a 35 hour week, special allowances for turning up (no joke), overtime, six weeks holiday, the list goes on. By most estimates these differences in terms and conditions add 20% to local authority labour costs. By equalising Ts and Cs with the private sector my council could save £69 million and more than cover the saving required by central government.
Remember also that local authorities have time. Four years is a very long time in business and to know in advance what your income is and what you will be doing over that period allows you to re-engineer your activities in a considered and fair way.
None of this will be easy and it will seem unfair to many if we ask public sector workers to work longer hours for frozen pay and higher pensions contributions. But, Nick Robinson’s linking of cuts with services will only be true if councils actively decide that residents must pay because they don’t want to have hard conversations with their own workforces.