The Communities Secretary Eric Pickles has attacked the Local Government Association for "scaremongering" over the impact of spending cuts in Town Halls. The LGA have put out a press release calling on the Government to ease the cuts – before they even have the figures of how big the cuts will be. The have suggested that 140,000 local government staff would lose their jobs – a figure that would imply concentrating job losses on lower paid front line staff rather than higher paid managers.
How did the LGA, with its multi million pound budget and army of highly paid researchers, get to this figure?
The Local Government Group undertook desk research on announcements from councils and press articles over the past twelve months, which referred to the number of posts that will be cut. For those authorities where no announcement or article was available, missing values were estimated using the observed ratio of cuts to employment headcount, to provide an estimated total for all councils.
The truth is they don't really have a clue. Eric is not impressed. He told the BBC:
"I have seen better figures put together on the back of a fag packet. This is not original research. It is a collection of press releases. The LGA does not know what the level of the cuts are or how they are going to be delivered."
He said the kind of job cuts set out by the LGA could only be true if the councils decided to hit the vulnerable. He claimed if the councils "took out middle management and merged services, then the public
should see virtually no difference.
"This is nothing more than scaremongering and frankly there are going to be a lot of council workers that are going to be worried by the LGA when they have done no research. Coming from an organisation where its chief executive has had to take a £200,000 cut in salary, I am not terribly impressed."
The Guardian note that the LGA has a Conservative leadership. But Conservative ministers at the DCLG have been quite willing to criticise Conservative councils from time to time. Several have been criticised for paying Chief Executives too much. Barnet were criticised over councillor allowances, Croydon over cuts to the voluntary sector. Even my own council of Hammersmith and Fulham has been criticised for publishing a council newspaper (I think the criticism is unfair as our paper is self financing through advertising but one takes it on the chin.) I think that even handed approach adds credibility to the Government's messages.
Baroness Eaton, Chairman of the Local Government Association, said:
“Local councils knew the cuts were coming and had planned prudently to reduce spending over the coming years. We cut more than £1 billion from our budgets in the middle of this year, rolled up our sleeves and got on with the job. But the unexpected severity of the cuts that will have to be made next year will put many councils in an unprecedented and difficult position.
“No council cuts jobs lightly, but many are being left with no choice. Some jobs will go in natural wastage, not filling vacancies and voluntary redundancy, however, we cannot escape the fact that some losses will be dedicated professional posts that, given a choice, councils would not want to see go. These are the tough choices we are going to have to make.
“Local government will have to make cuts next year of around £2 billion more than we anticipated just a month ago. This stifles the opportunities for innovation and means town halls will be forced to cut further and deeper next year than they first thought.
“In order to protect frontline services, the Government must ensure that councils have the flexibility needed to manage changes to grant funding that are heavily loaded at the beginning of the four year settlement period. Grants that have yet to be finalised must be set at levels that help councils, rather than making a difficult situation even worse. ”
Attentive readers of this blog will know that I do not accept councils are prudent about spending money. They have not "rolled up their sleeves" anything like enough to find savings. Any suggestion that the Government "must" soften the grant settlement (whatever it turns out to be) "in order to protect frontline services" is defeatist drivel.
Baroness Eaton and Eric Pickles are both former leaders of Bradford Council. Eaton from 2000-2006. Pickles from 1988-90. They will know that there has been a vast increase in council spending in recent years. The level of waste, bureaucracy and overmanning in Town Halls is gargantuan. That doesn't mean that tackling the problem is easy. But we expect the LGA to come up with some practical advice rather than whining. Otherwise one piece of wasteful spending that councils may spot is their LGA sub.