Today’s press carries reports that 88 leaders of local council Liberal Democrat groups have signed an open letter condemning cuts in council funding.
Liberal Democrat outrage at the actions of the Government always reminds me of that scene in Macbeth where Banquo’s bloody ghost appears at the dinner table and Macbeth demands which of those present has done this. Whenever you hear Liberal Democrats whining about the coalition, it’s always important to remember that the Tories failed to win last year’s election and are only able to carry out their slash-and-burn on the public sector because the Liberal Democrats put them in power.
But read the Liberal Democrat council leaders’ letter – the full text is here – and it’s actually not a criticism of Government policy, but an endorsement of it. They don’t argue against cuts, they call for them to be phased or made elsewhere:
Rather than assist the country’s recovery by making public sector savings in a way that can protect local economies and the frontline, the cuts are so structured that they will do the opposite. The local government settlement will take a major hit in this coming financial year and further, smaller, cuts in subsequent years.
This front-loading means councils do not have the lead-in time necessary to re-engineer services on a lower-cost base and ease staff cuts without forced, expensive redundancies.
Inexplicably, local government is also being denied the opportunity to spread the cost of reorganisation and downsizing over several years – at no cost to central government – which just makes even bigger in-year cuts inevitable the Secretary of State’s role should be to facilitate necessary savings, while promoting the advance of localism and the Big Society. Unfortunately, Eric Pickles has felt it better to shake a stick at councillors than work with us.
It’s that first sentence that is the killer – a repetition of the same old Tory mantra that cuts will protect local economies. It’s the same economically illiterate assumption that if you cut the public sector the private sector will rush in to create jobs – when there’s not a shred of empirical evidence that this will actually happen. It’s an illusion that underpins their theory that cutting over time will be less painful – like Mr Micawber, they’re waiting for something (in this case the economy) to turn up. There’s no challenge to the overall economic strategy, even though their party fought the last election on a platform of opposing slash-and-burn economics.
It looks to me like a statement motivated by fear – fear that Eric Pickles might be a cleverer operator than they are and might be deeply relaxed about the Liberal Democrats carrying the can for cuts in services. As indeed they should. This isn’t about saving local services, it’s about saving their necks and their seats.
Looking at these comments, it remains clear that Liberal Democrat councillors are conflicted, confused and in some cases seriously deluded. Fortunately, this May we have the opportunity to do the humane thing and use the ballot box to put them out of their misery.