Stephen Houghton3

Budget Doublethink

Posted on October 29, 2018

The budget was a disappointment for deprived urban areas and local government as a whole.

Austerity isn’t over for us and the idea that it is “coming to an end” when we can see councils are no better off overall is plainly untrue.

To borrow a now lamentably worn cliché, £650m for social care is little more than a sticking plaster. No amount of smoke and mirrors can mask that.

Full departmental expenditure limits were not released with the budget and in his usual radio appearances the Chancellor claimed that:

“The overall envelope of funding that’s available in the spending review, once you take out the commitment we’ve made to health, gives flat real spending available for all other departments.”

When it was put to him that if the average was flat and some departments got an increase, others would face a cut, his answer said it all: “That’s a choice that we make, isn’t it?”

While we can’t know for sure until the Spending Review, this will likely mean every other department with non-ring-fenced budgets, aside from Health and Social Care, could continue to be in the firing line and, as we know, local government seems to be a favourite target for Treasury.

The complete absence of any financial certainty post 2020 also remains.

The unspoken mantra of austerity of course is: tighten your belts now and a more prosperous future is just around the corner. But that future it seems, for local government, is always held just out of reach.

This is now false economy, recklessly executed. As Amyas Morse, Comptroller and Auditor General of the NAO recently noted:

“At the beginning, local government responded with new, more efficient ways to deliver services. However, over time this has shifted from ‘more for less’ to ‘less for less’. This is because, during this progressive reduction in funding, I have not seen any evidence-based effort to reconcile funding to local needs.”

The continued abdication of responsibility for the toughest decisions to local government on a basis that hits deprived areas with low tax bases the hardest is unacceptable. Instead of making claims that contradict the realities we so plainly see, at the next spending review the Chancellor must practice a different kind of doublethink and think again.