When Julie Hilling, the Labour MP for Bolton West, asked David Cameron about grants to voluntary sector from her Labour-run Council he told her:
"We should say to every single council in the country: ‘When it comes to looking at and trimming your budgets, don't do the easy thing, which is to cut money to the voluntary bodies and organisations working in our communities. Look at your core costs. Look at how you can do more for less. Look at the value for money you get from working with the voluntary sector.'
"That is the message that I would take to her local authority, and everyone should try to work in that direction."
In response she told the Labour Conference that she did get back to her council:
“They told me that Cameron is the person who cut the Area Based Grants, the very money that funded these groups.
“They told me they would do whatever they could to support voluntary groups, but cuts were inevitable. If you don’t have the money you cannot pass it on.
“We face a big challenge.
Cameron isn’t devolving power, he is devolving cuts. He talks of difficult choices — and then asks local councils to make them for him.”
But the Area Based Grants are not ring fenced for the voluntary sector – or anything else – despite what Bolton Council may have told Miss Hilling. So it is a choice about where to save the money and localism does mean that the Council, rather than David Cameron, make that choice – although he is perfectly entitled to offer his view.
If I lived in Bolton West I would feel my local MP could have pushed the matter a bit more. She should not just have shrugged and thought: "Oh well if the Area Based Grant is cut then, of course they have to cut Bolton Community Voluntary Services funding by £89,000."
She should have reflected that this was already a Council that charged over £100 more than Trafford on Band D, the Council Tax has been increased by a further 1.2% This is the Council that spends money on bubble blowers for the rowdy element on Saturday nights and £440,000 on an art forgery.
She might have asked about the £19,000 pay rises to council officials already on six figure salaries. She could have suggested they save the £89,000 instead by cutting paid Trade Union Facility Time. This could have shown everyone that despite her trade union background she was not in the pocket of the unions. Or she could have suggested saving the £89,000 off the £1.5 million publicity budget. What about some asset sales of surplus buildings and the Manchester Airport shares? That could tackle the £270 milliion debt mountain for which the interest bill is £16 million a year. She could have urged the Council to stop dragging its heels on spending transparency so we could all offer further savings.
But instead she just blames David Cameron.