Cash-starved local councils in England turn to cuts and outsourcing
Even some Tory MPs fear local services are already at breaking point
However, necessity can be the mother of invention: £3.8 billion worth of social care funding is being transferred from the National Health Service to councils to pay for elderly care – an example of “joined-up thinking”, Cockell concedes.
“This will help older and vulnerable people to stay healthy and remain at home thereby avoiding unnecessary hospital admissions or emergency visits to A&E,” says communities secretary Eric Pickles. For some, the bluff and rotund Yorkshireman – “the model of lean government”, Osborne told MPs jokingly on Wednesday as he announced spending plans for 2015/16 – is the villain of the piece.
Most, if not all of his department’s statisticians have been fired, but his officials are unable to monitor how much of the savings he is demanding are coming from genuine efficiencies, or coming from cutting into the bone of vital services, MPs grumble.
Legacy of poverty
Councils most dependent on Whitehall grants have lost out most, even though they – because of a legacy of poverty and social problems – are also the ones that need the money most.
Under changes, councils will be able to keep a share of business rates revenue, rather than having to send it on directly to London, though business fears that this will just encourage them to increase it.
Pickles, however, is no mood to listen to complaints, saying council tax arrears ran to £691 million in March this year, though he is less likely to point out that this means that over 97 per cent of people are paying up.
For him, the model to be followed is the “tri-borough” co-operation agreement provisionally reached in London this year between Westminster City Council, Hammersmith & Fulham and Kensington and Chelsea.
Five hundred staff will go – nearly 40 per cent of them middle and senior managers.
Meanwhile, the 2,000 buildings run by the three councils will be managed by an outside contractor, which has been given a 10-year, £150 million deal.
The leader in this field is Barnet in north London – the so-called EasyJet Council because it wants to contract hundreds of millions worth of services to private industry – has fended off local opposition in a High Court battle in April.
Nearly 800 jobs would be hived off, including planners, road maintenance, food and restaurant inspectors and the staff who tend to the council’s cemeteries. For Pickles, Barnet is the future. For others it is the nightmare.