Our recent Taxpayer Rip-off report tried to pull together some stats on public service cuts. It proved to be quite tricky because for obvious reasons, the government doesn't tend to publish them. But from schools, to healthcare, to policing, to local councils, to Post Offices, services are being slashed via the closure of local facilities and the replacement of full-time qualified staff by cheap part-time dumbed down substitutes.
We omitted one cut which has surfaced again this morning - the closure of local council swimming pools. They are reportedly now being closed at the rate of 7 a month.
As always, stats are scarce because the government deliberately conflates the figures for public swimming pools with those for private pools. But survey evidence shows that public provision is collapsing. For example, according to the Amateur Swimming Association, back in the 1980's we had 3000 school pools; today, there are only 2000.
Now, we are not saying taxpayers funds should be spent on providing these highly expensive facilities. But against the background of a 50% real-terms increase in taxation since 1997-98, and a near threefold increase in public service charges, service cuts on top are an outrage.
Here's a reminder of some other cuts in local council services (see here for sources):
- Loss of weekly bin collection – in 1997 virtually all councils provided a weekly bin collection; by 2007, 140 out of 350 English councils had cut the service to a fortnightly collection, with many more set to follow suit; 20 million people now only have their rubbish collected fortnightly, and once again, there are growing concerns about the public health implications.
- Less road maintenance – there are many more potholes in roads as councils have cut maintenance standards; some have doubled the size of “actionable” potholes, and now only repair holes that are at least 4cms deep; there are growing safety concerns.
- Library closures – in the ten years to 2005, there were 452 library closures (including mobile libraries), taking the total down to around 4700.
- Closure of public conveniences – in the seven years to 2005, councils closed nearly 20% of the country’s public conveniences: we’re now down to about 5,000 (England and Wales), with a further 150 closing every year.
Meanwhile, a survey by the Police Federation has confirmed the public are unhappy with the replacement of real coppers by those "numpties in yellow jackets": 70% of us would feel safer with real policemen.
PS Tonight at 8.30 BBC Panorama is showing a documentary on sickies in Merthyr, the Incapacity Benefit capital of Britain (see Sun report here). Although Panorama is now a shadow of its former self, this might be worth a look, especially since they apparently tried to get some of the people back to work. Panorama also reveals that the cost of IB is now running at £16bn pa, which is £4bn over the last official figure. £16bn pa being nearly 5p on the standard rate of income tax.