by Andrew Boswell and Richard Bearman, The Norwich Green Party
During the General Election campaign, the Green Party warned of another 5 years of continuing and unprecedented cuts to Local Authority budgets. We pointed out that the coalition and Labour backed the ongoing austerity programme, and that only the Green Party, SNP, and Plaid Cymru opposed this assault on public services. Unfortunately the election was strongly influenced by the TV party leaders debate, together with misleading sound bites and on-the-hoof policy changes designed to win over undecided voters. The election outcome does not reflect the lack of public support for more cuts to local services.
But plans announced this week by Norfolk County Council are seeing more devastating cuts to public services in Norfolk. Under its ‘Re-imagining Norfolk’ strategy, the Council has asked councillors and officers to plan for 25% of cuts to services in its Budget for the next 3 years. Current government funding reductions, pushed through by the Tories nationally, will require the council to cut its services by at least 15%. However the Labour, UKIP, and LibDem alliance has voted for plans to cut 25% instead of the required 15% to allow ‘headroom’.
It is little more than an enormous fraud perpetrated on local people
Green Party councillors do not support this policy and consider that planning for even bigger cuts than are strictly necessary will create a dangerous precedent. Green Party city councillor Sandra Bogelein commented: “We need to stand up against these Tory cuts to local public services. There is no humane argument that could possibly justify to increase the cuts to services beyond government demands. This is the completely wrong direction of political action. It is not just money here it is people’s lives we are talking about!”
Over the last few years Central Government has been bringing down the overall budget deficit by reducing the Settlement Funding Assessment payable to Local Authorities. This grant is worth £138m to the Council in 2015-16, but will have completely disappeared by 2019. This is despite Norfolk residents and businesses continuing to pay their Income Tax, Corporation Tax, Council Tax, V.A.T. and Capital taxes; when numerous assessments have shown that our local services in areas such as adult’s and children’s social care are already insufficient. They do not meet the need in the region and leave vulnerable people with completely insufficient support. It is little more than an enormous fraud perpetrated on local people as a result of the financial crash.
there can be little doubt that the most vulnerable
in society will suffer most
This all means that even after a sustained period of unprecedented efficiencies, savings, and cuts, Norfolk County Council is planning to find another £111m of savings, on top of £33m already identified, for the 3 years commencing 2016/17. We cannot be certain at this point as to which services will be the hardest hit, but there can be little doubt that the most vulnerable in society will suffer most, as the Council have already admitted that people will need to rely on their families and communities more and the Council less.
Indicative Budgets issued by the Council illustrate that there could be massive difficulties in all service areas. Adult Social Care is a well publicised problem and faces a cut of over £50m by 2018-19 despite consistently exceeding its current Budget. Other departments will be under similar pressures including Children’s Services and Fire & Rescue, whilst we could also see reduced opening hours and closures of museums and libraries.
Do we dare imagine what that could mean for some of our fellow citizens? What will it mean for the already insufficient care for elderly and the holes that are already gaping in the support for vulnerable children or disabled people?
If we want to avoid this Norfolk nightmare we need
to make sure we are heard by those county councillors
supporting this plan
As the leader of Birmingham City Council warned last year, “the next few years may see the end of local government as we know it”. If we want to avoid this Norfolk nightmare we need to make sure we are heard by those county councillors supporting this plan to model up to 25% cuts. Find out which councillor represents you at Norfolk County Council and let him or her know that this is not an option for Norfolk. Take part in the consultation on the 2016/17 Budget that will commence in the Autumn.
The Greens have already opposed and voted against this 2015/16 austerity budget in February, which the Labour group was able to vote through due to Tory councillors abstaining from the vote. We will be fighting hard in this year’s budget process for a non-austerity budget for Norfolk and will oppose the planned 25% service cuts in committees. But we do need the support of the public and the lobbying pressure of the public. So please join us to stand up against these enormous planned cuts.