It is three and a half years until the next local election. Believe me you are going to get very bored of the political debate in that time. What it will come down to is Labour trying to blame cuts in Ealing on the Tories and the Tories trying to blame any local impacts on the decisions of the local administration and Gordon Brown’s debt legacy.
Today the local paper has decided that it will put all thoughts of objectivity to one side and do a two page special report complete with “The cuts: where the axe if falling” logo. The Gazette squarely tells one side of the story quoting Labour council leader Julian Bell, Ealing TUC rep Eve Turner and an unnamed officer of Ealing NUT. There is no attempt to put this in the context of a deficit of £3 billion a week or £5,000 per taxpayer per year. The paper doesn’t mention the NHS – because it has been protected. It fail to explain that this protection of a core service everyone relies on has to be paid for by cuts elsewhere.
Bell is so keen to get his retaliation in first he is not above exaggerating his case. Apparently:
He painted a gloomy picture of having to choose ‘the lesser of evils’ from limited options once about a third of his budget is wiped out.
It seems journalist Michael Russell either has no knowledge of the council’s finances or is happy to nod through nonsense. The cut to the council’s grant is going to be 26%. That is one quarter of the grant not one third of the budget. Council income includes council tax, fees and charges for services ranging from parking through to planning and social care and income from other grants, Section 106, etc. For instance, the changes to parking charges proposed by the council are the equivalent of a 1.9% rise in council tax on their own. Last year the council spent £1,031 million on the revenue side and £151 million on the capital side. Its £53 million savings target is only 4.5% of that. Seen in the round this cut is not quite so harrowing. Bell undermines what little credibility he has by exaggerating as he does.
One theme you will see recurring again and again is the Labour council cutting back frontline services whilst protecting its own managers and workers and their conditions. Their strategy will be “protect our own”. They won’t ever say it. They probably aren’t even consciously aware of it. It is in their DNA. They can’t help themselves. The Conservative instinct is “residents first”. Where Labour is happy to externalise the pain the Tories would protect you from it. We just did for four years, that is our track record.