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

  1. Eddie Maltus says:

    What a fascinating summary!
    It would appear that the lion’s share of momey passing out of the council is going into schools and housing benefit. Both, I would naively assume, have risen over the years to reflect migration. The decrease in the general fund from 354 (2009) million to 239 (2017) million is “everything” else that the council does including social services and refuse collection. To be honest with you I have difficulty in understanding what this reduced general fund activities means in terms of services to the resident, or will mean from next year.
    What I do find odd about these cuts is how political, with a small “p” so many of the cuts that we are seeing are. We have all sorts of unnecessary positions that seem to be concerned with internal monitoring of processes and other aspects of political correctness within the council. These seem to survive regardless while the footsoldiers are regularly decimated and temped out. Positions that to me seem unnecessary are the tree officers (who keep catalogues of fugii growing on Ealing’s trees, for example), allotments officers and staff (when all other aspects of environmental services have long been contracted out to greater efficiency), cycling officers (whose key role seems to be to take “no cycling” signs down on busy footpaths near creches, infant, and primary schools), and the mayor (with office support staff). None of these roles are of any use in providing social welfare and are sperfluous to essental infrastructure.
    Another aspects is that the remaining departments seem management top heavy in terms of multiple directors, executive directors, director of, head of, etc. where one person would normally manage the team. We seem to have disproportionate number of managers for headcount.

  2. Phil says:

    Yes, it is interesting to see what is actually spent and how it changes over time. It is a constant cause of frustration to me that the council and its officers are unwilling to present data like this. It would be good to see other forms of government expenditure, such as health, on the same spreadsheet.

    We do need more debate about housing benefit. The idea that we spend more on this than the rest of our council services is ridiculous.

    You do get the impression that the council would rather cut relatively modest and low-paid frontline jobs that deliver outputs we actually want – clean streets say, rather than look at the management structure, etc.

    All cycling funds come from TfL and the council spends nothing on this (except where a ward forum say wants a bike rack). The council doesn’t want to explain this so we have the impression that they would rather have a cycling officer rather than an adult social worker.

  3. Eddie Maltus says:

    Phil,
    Thank you for your further insight. I had no idea that TfL paid for the cycling officers. I have to admit that does not bring great cheer to my heart as a user of public transport in London which is arguably among the most expensive in the world. What I do find extraordinary is the way in which footpaths are being shoehorned into ill-fitting dual use footpath/cycleways. If we are to have cycling officers in Ealing Council could they not be re-tasked for the greater good into educating cyclists into the correct use of the Highway Code, and the fact that it is illegal to cycle on footpaths and pavements? Perhaps some of the TfL Money could be spent on multi-lingual cycling Highway Codes to be distributed by the cycling officers out on patrol to cyclists who are hell-bent (literally) on overtaking lorries and cars on the kerb-side and who go shooting across junctions through red lights? Could perhaps their role be made to including fining cyclists who do this and, for example, ride in the dark without lights?

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