Local Government In Deep Water

Local Government In Deep Water

James Brokenshire

The financial crisis is well over a decade old, and has indelibly left its mark on the politics of the UK. Even now, it’s effects are still reverberating in Brexit Britain.

This week, the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government announced that there would be an additional £1.3bn for local authorities in the next financial year, boasting that the money would “pave the way for a more confident, self-sufficient and reinvigorated local government”. In reality, this 2.8% bump is not an actual increase, but in fact the “estimated spending power” of local councils, with the guaranteed government grant really falling by £1bn. The £1.3bn figure is instead based on assumptions made about councils’ money raising power from tax increases and other revenue streams. Even if local government makes a strong showing in raising this money, the figure is barely above inflation, and comes hot on the heel of a decade’s worth of swingeing cuts to local government funding.

The effects of this stranglehold on local budgets is striking. Last year, theConservative-run Northamptonshire Council had to admit it would be unable to meet its financial obligations, closing down whole swathes of services. More recently, the Government has drawn up plans to reopen Ramsgate as a ferry port in the event of a no-deal Brexit, only to be confronted with a struggling Thanet District Council that is poised to cut port spending by £730,000.

The implications of local governments being starved of funds is clear – an ever more centralised national government dictating service. Authorities cannot raise enough money on their own, and as long as central government controls purse strings, they will continue to be the afterthought of national politics. So Westminster makes all the cuts, and local authorities receive all the blame. No wonder the cuts keep coming.