Jan 2011 18

Cuts in central funding will affect councils’ budgeting decisions over the coming years. But taxpayers will have to be wary of councils conjuring up new ways to raise money to plug the gap. We’ve seen stories of councils hiking the cost of burial plots and allotments for example, with taxpayers already paying record levels of council tax. It would be wholly wrong for councils to offset the reduction in their central grant with increases in such charges when there are so many areas of waste remaining. What’s happened over the last ten years is akin to what many people go through at Christmas – we eat and drink too much and put on weight. How do we lose it again? We exercise and eat well; we do the hard work. Councils that have gorged on taxpayers’ money are ducking the responsibility of making vital cuts. They’d rather keep feasting by ramping up charges on other services, buying a new belt instead of shedding the pounds.

It is worth keeping a close eye on your own council for similar schemes. There are ways for councils to reduce their spending sensibly, it just requires more imaginative thinking.

Equally pernicious is the attempt by some councils to blame others instead of working at improving their efficiency. For example, Lambeth council have an advertising campaign with the slogan “The Government has cut our money so we are forced to cut services.” This highly provocative and shamelessly political advert is a pathetic attempt to divert the blame towards central government, deflecting attention away from years of unsustainable growth in the public sector and misspending by councils. Rather than making proper cuts in bloated areas – many of which the TPA has repeatedly highlighted – Lambeth have chosen to use taxpayers money for a political ad trying to blame someone else. Indeed, the government is complaining to a financial watchdog about the posters, which cost £600 to produce. While they had free use of advertising space they missed out on private revenue for ads that could have taken it otherwise.  Other nearby councils have shown it possible to deliver greater value for money, like neighbouring Wandsworth.

And some are using front-line workers as political pawns too. National newspapers and major broadcasters covered the news last week that Manchester City Council was being “forced” to cut 2,000 jobs as a result of their latest financial settlement, reducing their enormous 23,340 headcount. In response Harry Phibbs posted numerous other ways the council can adapt to lower central government funding. He suggests that, rather than letting go of front-line workers, maybe Manchester City Council could begin with the 383 middle managers on over £50,000.

We need to remember that spending cuts have to be made. The public sector  grew by over 0.9 million between 1997 and 2010, a staggering 17 per cent, so it would be irresponsible to suggest that there will not be job losses, there has to be. Paying staff is the main cost for many public sector organisations and this has increased to an untenable amount. And some services will have to be pared back, too. Cuts and a reduction in staff numbers will be uncomfortable so we need strong economic growth so there are jobs for people to go to in theprivate sector and to ensure that the cuts are focused to minimise the impact on the services people rely on most.

Local authorities have to work hard to cut the genuine waste. From April all ring fencing around all revenue grants except for schools will be removed. That will give councils more freedom to make financial decisions, meaning they have even less of an excuse to pass the buck when making savings.

Chris is a Policy Analyst at the TaxPayers’ Alliance, focussing on local government spending. His work in this area includes papers on trade union funding and our Town Hall Rich List.

  • Anonymous

    These councils will carry on regaedless, they will “Sacrifice” frontline workers picking litter, and emtying bins, to protect their “empire”.

    The equality, diversity and 5 a day co-ordinators along with the revenue leeching non jobbers must be protected at all costs, along with all those executive salaries….

  • Scary

    I for one am very scareed.

  • Autolycus

    We are in the absurd position that those who grossly exploited their position with hugely inflated salaries will ‘save’ by downsizing every department but their own. Who has the power to downsize them and their salary levels?
    There is widespread outrage at the huge sums paid in City and Banking salaries, although their profits fuelled the Blair-Brown ‘immortal’ boom and continue to add vast sums to the national income.
    Why is there not a comparable outcry against the salaries paid to the potentates of local government who often depend for their position on the votes of those who don’t pay council tax?
    In my borough at 31,000 they are nearly a third of those eligible to vote.

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  • andy

    the trouble with the current situation of cuts by the government, is the same as always, when a local council what ever their politics is forced to kerb it’s spending it always cuts service’s and jobs of the staff that the people see, never a cut in the over staffing and over pay of the staff that you don’t see. The government know that they will cut for political gain but don’t do anything about it so in my eye’s they are as bad as the councils because they know the low paid will be sacrificed and essential frontline service’s will go forever. If they really wanted to save money and not be seen in a bad light then they would cap the rate’s, cap the budget they get from taxe’s and then appoint a tzar in each council to demolish the high wage’s and waste from the top down to the bottom not bottom to top, then we wouldn’t loose so many worker’s or service’s.
    Put it this way a council doesn’t grow anything, it doesn’t make anything. it doesn’t have to sell anything, all it has to do is serve the people of that borough so why do the top people have £200.000 salary’s + assistant’s on equally high wage’s. It’s a case of white collar worker’s looking after themselve’s and sod the worker’s at the bottom.

  • pontypool1

    Civil Service Departments’ spending is viewable and accountable to The National Audit Office. What accountability is there for local councils? Yes, we vote for councilors, but not the administrative staff/management. Albeit over 2.5 years since this headline appeared headline in a newspaper, what accountability has improved since? Local Councils “seem a law unto themselves”, whilst poorly paying “front level” staff….

  • Anonymous

    Stop being silly. The TPA do not believe in low wages, they believe in low taxes – as does any sane person. This has nothing to do with the disabled, everything to do with government wasting our money.

    To compare the intent to reduce taxes and stop government wasting money to Nazi Germany is insulting to everyone who resisted the Nazi’s.

    This is my money they take. My money that I’d much rather were paid to my grandparents for private healthcare but instead see given to hugely overpaid CEOs, pointless ad campaings and seemingly never ending utter drivel.

  • Robert

    I would suggest capping the number of council staff in one council that earn over:
    6 times average salery = 0
    5 times average salery = 1
    4 time averager salery = 5
    3 times average salery = 25

    Average salery should be provided by the inland revenue earned income.

  • ISC

    Sorry, but the TPA is wrong on one thing – the raising of fees for some council services. For services such as burial plots and allotments (which should properly be provided by the private sector), the council should seek to deliver the service as efficiently as possible (yes I know that is tricky), and then should charge the necessary fees to cover the total cost of the service. Councils should not seek to make profits from these services over the long term, but neither should the users of these services seek to have their service subsidised by the council tax-payer.

  • Arthur-roberts

    Conwy County Council have got squandering money to an art form

    • Bobbybrian213

      Go Arthur! Concise but straight to the point!

  • Anonymous

    Corrupt local authorities especially those labour run like Barnsley MBC will take advantage to screw the frontline staff who actually do the work and screw the council taxpayer in as many way’s possible, while protecting their non jobs.
    CEO’s, assistants, assistants assistants etc etc.
    Any cuts in jobs should be from the top down, and when they are as corrupt as Barnsley MBC they should go with nothing and think themselves lucky they are not doing time. Increase upon increase in wages for themselves over the years amounts to theft from the taxpayer.

  • Matthewfox

    I think I have stumbled across another Conservative Party Website.

  • B0bbybrian213

    Isn’t it time that Councillors Expenses were more cloesly examined, some are claimining almost s much as an MPs salary (minus expenses) Being a Coucillor used to be an Civic Duty by giving up a little of your spare time for the benefit of one’s neighbours. Nowadays it seems that they have become a gaggle of Professional Councillors who do not work at a proper job and many may even be living on Benefits unless they are genuinely retired. Let some competent authority make a full invesigation and lets be knowing just where the taxpayers money is really being spent.

  • 2040ad

    “attempt to divert the blame towards central government”

    So this is the reverse of what the coalition is doing to local govt. No where in this article does it mention the cut to local govt funding, which is around 25%. The Coalition are trying to shift the blame of the cuts to local govt.

  • Geoffrey1943

    Now we know we are being milked by local government year on year, all these councils are paranoid about spending tax payers money they just cannot help themselves, the hours they work is minimal the remuneration is extreme and the government of the day does very little in putting an end to it, what is the saying “we are all in it together” which means public sector workers that includes MP’s who are paid by the taxpayer all stick together watching their own backs, one council leader said if you want top class managers we need to pay them top saleries why they are not banks, although sometimes I think they feel they are better than banks, what sort of bank I cannot say, we are back to the good old days when they say “those that have will get more and those that do not will get less”, the time must right to address this situation with those that have will pay more and those that do not will pay less, we heard it all before. These people earning top saleries and then expect their pensions to be topped up by the tax payers is almost as bad as the MP’s expenses row but is legal, thanks to the incompetent Labour government who’s only prudence was to line the pockets of public workers and anyone they could make a pound out of some sordid collusion and know we are paying the price for it, the future is bleak and getting worse it is time somebody took the bull by the horns and sorted it out instead of making excuses.