I am sorry but the people we pay to run local services in Ealing are not telling it straight

The Gazette on Friday regurgitated an Ealing Council press release on “Deeper cuts” without any comment from opposition spokespeople. Interestingly the Gazette headline was more measured than the headline used the council officers we pay to be objective.

The council said:

Deeper cuts bring more pain as council loses £205million over the decade

Whilst the Gazette contented itself with:

Services in Ealing to have lost 50% of funding by 2020

Both of these statements are pretty misleading.

Back in August, in a futile attempt to shore up Liz Kendall, Julian Bell, issued an open letter of support. In doing so he came up with his latest fantasy cuts number – only £183 million back then, see here.

I was not impressed with his misuse of statistics so I wrote to the Council’s chief executive to get the full picture. I wrote to him on the 17th August and got the final, corrected response on 9th September. Not having a suitable hook to hang publication of the numbers on I sat on them. Now that even the council’s own officers have joined in the misinformation I figured it was time.

I simply asked the chief executive to spell out the council’s past income and future income in a comparable way so that the layman could properly judge the eye watering cuts numbers numbers being bandied about by Labour politicians (and by council officers rather shockingly this week). The key numbers are set out below (click picture to enlarge).

Gross budget

The headline number here is the Gross Budget. The total amount of money coming into the council every year for eight years. Of course lots of detail needs to be explained but in 2009/2010 – the last year under Gordon Brown the council spent £790 million and in 2017/18 it predicts that it will spend … £790 million. The later number is likely to be an underestimate – the predicted income will have been low balled and the predicted expenditure will have been high balled.

I don’t want to belittle the achievement of council officers in having to deal with massive changes to council finances. But, you can see how we can still be running an overall budget deficit at national level whilst all the time spending agencies are wailing about cuts.

It is clear from these numbers that we need to divert funding from housing benefit and the council has had to make room for more schools spending as school rolls have expanded. But, it is also clear that the numbers being used by the council do not usefully convey the real picture.

I have reproduced the more detail from the council below. Happy to discuss some of the details in the comments.

  1. Total gross expenditure includes two significant areas, schools and housing benefit, where the level of spending is not controlled by the council. These areas of spend are also ring-fenced so they can only be expended on specific functions.
  2. In April 2013, statutory responsibility for Public Health, together with the associated funding, was transferred to local government from the NHS. Of the current funding received by the Council £22m relates directly to the discharge of this function.
  3. As requested the starting year for the analysis is 2009/10. However the 2010/11 financial year is shaded because this was the final budget set before the election of the coalition government in 2010 and is therefore the relevant baseline.
  4. During the period there have been a number of changes to the local government funding system which will have impacted on individual income lines set out in the analysis. The most significant of these is the replacement of council tax benefit with the localised council tax support scheme in April 2013, which explains why the council tax figure reduces at that point. There will be other changes that are not as significant or apparent but which may affect like for like comparisons.
  5. The analysis identifies the cash reduction in the council’s total funding. The figure of £183m takes into account unfunded inflationary and some demographic pressures over the period.
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Ealing Council blows £200K on virtue signalling

I am quite happy to see Ealing Council being broadly supportive of higher wages for the low paid but I am not sure to what extent it should be a priority if it means taking cash from frontline services for what is essentially virtue signalling by businesses and the council.

Citizens UKYesterday’s announcement of £200K in business rates relief for local businesses looks good on the face of it but is in reality just a bung to Citizens UK which is a churchy advocacy movement. All well and good but there is no way that Ealing Council could ever justify a £100K a year grant of unrestricted funds to Citizens UK and this looks all too much like a back door way of supporting an advocacy group rather than a boon to local businesses. There will be lots of voluntary organisations which do work directly with needy people in Ealing who will wonder why Ealing council has taken millions of Pounds off them in recent years but is now bunging Citizens UK £200K.

The money that the council is diverting from vital services such as childrens’ services is going to be used to pay £500 a year fees for businesses to be accredited by what is effectively a campaign or subsidiary of Citizens UK called the Living Wage Foundation. This is really just a trading name of Citizens UK which is constituted as a charity.

Citizens UK sucks and blows about £1 million per annum so this new source of funds for Citizens UK is worth about 10% of their total income for two years – a good deal for them if Ealing businesses take it up.

This exercise is just virtue signalling on the public purse. The Council itself says:

Ealing Council is marking its intention to become a Living Wage Borough

Great, £200K worth of marking. More expensive even than Bassam Mahfouz’s Christmas tree which was £13K spent signalling the council’s recycling credentials. Next time Julian Bell tells you how heartbroken he is over cuts ask him how he found this £200K.

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The housing crisis crept up on us under Labour but don’t expect it to own up

Today both the leader of the opposition, Jeremy Corbyn, and my MP Rupa Huq have been talking about housing affordability. Corbyn called in aid an email from a “Matthew” at PMQs at lunchtime. Huq, who remains unembarrassed about nominating Corbyn, has been talking to the Gazette.

Both gloss over Labour’s appalling record on housing. Housing affordability halved under Labour in the period 1998 to 2007 and has stayed about the same since according to the published stats (DCLG Live Table 577). They have probably got a little worse since and then got better more recently.

Ratio median house prices to median earnings

One of the drivers for this was Labour’s awful record on social housing. As I have pointed out many times before the worst ten years in our country since the Second World War for social housebuilding were 1998 to 2007. It is no coincidence.

Social housing completions 19-2-2015

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The Ealing jobs miracle – unemployment falls below 5,000 – half what it was

Unemployment in the London Borough of Ealing, as measured by the claimant count, has fallen below 5,000 for the first time since June 2008.

NOMIS All October 2015

Ealing’s unemployment peaked at 9,580 in September 2009 as the post credit crunch recession worked its way through the economy. Since then unemployment overall in Ealing has halved and fell below 5,000 to 4,910 in September. This is the first time Ealing’s claimant count has been below 5,000 since June 2008 when it was 4,950.

If you want to see where the data comes from all you have to do is go to the ONS’s nomis database.

Expect to hear much rejoicing from our three local Labour MPs and the Labour council leader. Or not maybe.

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Human rights industry touting for business

The left wing press is bigging up another of those round robin letters this morning.

Somehow the BBC seems to be unembarrassed and unapologetic about running in this company.

If you do go to the original material and look at the list of signatories it all becomes clear. All the usual lefty suspects such as Geoffrey Bindman, Helena Kennedy and Michael Mansfield are there. Indeed 9 officers of the Haldane Society of Socialist Lawyers are there.

Usual suspects

If you are in any doubt about what is going on here then the signatures of 52 lawyers from Doughty Chambers should convince you. They say:

Doughty Street Chambers is probably the largest and most wide-ranging civil liberties legal practice in the world.

There are 43 signatures from Matrix Chambers with their “progressive outlook”. The Blackstone Chambers provides 32 signatories.

Even a cursory look at the list tells you that this letter is about the human rights barrister industry touting for business.

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Labour’s Jon Ashworth keeping up the fibs on housing

In response to David Cameron’s speech this morning the Labour Party bashed out this press release allegedly penned by Jonathan Ashworth MP, Shadow Minister without Portfolio. Without scruple more like.

I know the housing numbers so his housing claim leaps out as being disingenuous. Well plain mendacious really.

He says:

You can’t claim to care about the housing crisis when you’ve overseen the lowest level of housebuilding in peacetime since the 1920s.

How did that happen? There was a little thing called the credit crunch.

If you want to know what happened to house building in our country in recent years go and look at the DCLG Live tables on house building, in particular Table 212 House building: permanent dwellings started and completed, by tenure, Great Britain (quarterly).

Permanent dwellings started per quarter from Table 212

If you go and dig in the data the low point for housing starts in this country was Q4 2008 when only 20,660 homes were started. The record of the Coalition in the period Q3 2010 to Q4 2014 (latest data) is an average of 34,104 starts per quarter 65% higher than the Labour low point.

Ashworth knows he is talking rubbish. He is hoping that no-one notices.

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No perspective on homelessness

I saw this from Radio 4 World at One’s Martha Kearney today:

Of course voices on the left were jumping all over it pretty quickly:

Another one of those terrible Tories stories. Kearney said “New figures” but it did sound a bit familiar though. A quick Google search threw up:

The driver for this coverage is these statistics published today.

Temporary accommodationThis chart from the report shows that we have been here before. Homelessness, in terms of households in temporary accommodation was worse than it is now from Q2 2000 to Q4 2009 inclusive. So Labour’s record was very poor. Homelessness was worse in relatively good times than it is now. It is increasing but it would be nice if the BBC could give us some perspective on the driver of these changes.

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Labour shifts left, Sahota bows dutifully

Local property magnate, health entrepreneur and part-time politician Onkar Sahota has quickly got on board with Labour’s suicidal lurch to the left. You would expect anyone as commercially minded as Sahota to be on the right of the Labour party and that was reflected in his choices in the recently concluded round of Labour party internal elections.

He backed Yvette Cooper for the leadership and Tessa Jowell for the London mayoralty.

Nothing if not flexible, Sahota has been quick to accept the new reality.

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Tessa wants to keep your £20

The Olympic Precept was put in place by Tessa Jowell when she was in charge of the Olympics as the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport in the Labour government. It has been costing London council tax payers about £20 a year since 2006 and is due to come to an end next year.

Famously Ken Livingstone likened the £20 a year levy to being the equivalent of a Walnut Whip or 38p every week. This was typical of Livingstone’s careless, jocular approach to taking your money.

In his last budget the London Mayor, Boris Johnson, promised to give the money back to Londoners in the shape of a cut in the GLA Precept (which is added to council tax bills and collected by your local council on behalf of the GLA). The budget document says:

Olympic precept in budget

Labour’s leading candidate to be the London Mayor, our Tessa, has been promising to put £61 million into Sure Start. She lays claim to the original programme but is less keen to lay claim to the Olympic Precept we have been paying for ten years in London. Now she says she doesn’t want to let this cash go. Although she fails to spell it out clearly what she is proposing is that the £61 million will be paid for by adding £20 a year on your council tax, £20 that Boris has promised to stop taking from you. Tessa wants to keep your £20.

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One open letter deserves another

Today the reasonable wing of the Ealing Labour party has come out in favour of Liz Kendall for leader of the Labour party. All well and good. Today council leader Julian Bell issued the “open letter” below:

Now at least the Ealing lefties will know who to knife at the next selection meeting.

Wasting no opportunity to get one of his favourite political lines in Bell says:

As Councillors from Ealing we know how hard the Tory government has hit our Borough. Ealing Council funding has been cut by £183m between 2010 and 2018 – that is over 50% of our budget…

This is a total misuse of words. Any normal understanding of the word budget is that it is the total amount you have to spend and what you spend it on. In reality Ealing Council spends in the order of £800 million a year but they are shy of saying this because it makes cuts that the council has had to endure sound too small. Is it really credible that Ealing Council is going to be half the size it was in 2010? No. I last looked at this last summer and the council’s expenditure since 2010 had essentially been flat in cash terms.

The council may well have lost something like half of its central government funding, which is extremely painful, but its council tax revenue has been going up in spite of the freeze, due to new building among other factors, and it has ramped up prices for council services considerably (£10 million of the “savings” in the last council 2010-2014 were price rises, so no cuts at all, just price rises replacing government grant).

Rather than write an open letter to Bell who will either not respond or who will fail to give me an honest answer I have written To the Chief Executive of the council, Martin Smith.

Letter to Martin Smith 17th August 2015

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