On Saturday morning just before 8.30am on BBC Radio 4 Today programme the Leader of Hammersmith and Fulham Council Cllr Stephen Cowan made the startling claim that “they’ve been cut 70 per cent since 2010, local government budgets.”
In 2010/11 total local authority spending was £104.2 billion (this included £57.6 billion from central Government grants, £26.3 billion in Council Tax). In 2016/17 the total is £94.1 billion (this includes £54 billion from central Government and £26 billion in Council Tax).
So in terms of cold hard cash that’s a cut on nine per cent. When we start start trying to talk about the change in “real terms” it gets more complicated. There is seven years of inflation – which is another 23 per cent. On the other hand some of the “cuts” are notional – for instance if a school converts to academy status it is funded direct by central government rather than via the local authority.
Thus there is some room for argument about the precise figure. But a claim of a cut of 70 per cent – or anything approaching such a figure – is wildly dishonest.
That was not the only muddled part of the interview with Cllr Cowan. He said in Hammersmith and Fulham using the adult social care Council Tax precept as enough savings had been found instead from banners on lamp posts. But then he said that more money was needed:
“I meet people at my surgery. I meet old people who lie in bed and wonder how they are going to get out to go the toilet. You meet people you can’t get out the house, or can’t keep the house clean.” He said that “we are compassionate society” and the answer was to “provide the funding.”
Some would argue it is simplistic to believe that more spending means a better service. There is little evidence to show a correlation between spending and outcomes in different local authorities. It is about better management. But if as council leader Cllr Cowan feels the social care service the Council provides is unacceptable and that increased spending is the answer then why doesn’t he take that decision? What does he promise those who go to his surgery? To send himself an angry email?