This letter to the editor recently appeared in the Camden New Journal.
It is a sad day when dedicated local public sector workers feel they need to strike. Having been on strike on three occasions this year against cuts in legal aid, I understand the frustration and fears of those who work in the public sector. They have seen their pay fall by 20% in real terms since 2009.
The real issue though, is the scandal of cuts to local services. By the end of this Parliament, councils’ funding from central government will have been cut by 33% (in comparison with Whitehall departments that have faced an average of 12%). This is an unprecedented onslaught and will affect the services that we all rely on. Don’t believe me? How about this statement:
“The resilience of local government cannot be stretched much further. For many councils, new funding cuts in 2015/16 will lead to a significant reduction in, and in some cases even loss of, important local services. In the next spending round local government finance must be put on a sustainable footing.”
Those are not my words, but the words of Sir Merrick Cockerell, outgoing Tory Chair of the Local Government Association – and ex Leader of Kensington and Chelsea – hardly a left wing sympathiser.
Eric Pickles and the Tory/Lib Dem coalition don’t seem to be interested. They can give tax breaks for the rich but at the same time embark on an idealogically driven austerity programme that doesn’t deal with the essential question – how do we make these services better?
The truth is that local government should be at the core of local services. Local government workers should be valued and a part of the solution. Working in local government should be a career that people aspire to. We must have a complete rewiring of public services: the only way of maintaining public services in the face of proposed long-term cuts is to design them around the needs of individual people and communities. This means devolving budgets away from Whitehall to local areas; increasing cooperation between public agencies; saving money; and improving services. Research shows that this approach would save up to £4 billion a year across the public sector. The future direction is for local action to lead national change.