Budget 2018: ‘The warm words don’t fit the cold reality’

North Herts Labour's Ian Albert has penned an opinion piece on Monday's Budget. Picture: Andrew Aitc

North Herts Labour's Ian Albert has penned an opinion piece on Monday's Budget. Picture: Andrew Aitchison - Credit: Archant

“The warm words don’t fit the cold reality” – NHDC Labour Group’s shadow portfolio holder for finance gives his views on the Budget.

Prime Minister Theresa May announced that austerity is over. Chancellor Philip Hammond declared he was delivering a Budget for hard-working families and looking confidently to the future. But, for many of us, the warm words don’t fit the cold reality.

We have the evidence of our own eyes, our local council – North Herts District Council – continues to slash services. Playgrounds are ripped out, bins regularly aren’t collected, garden waste is charged for – local council budgets are at breaking point, with still more cuts to come.

The recent strategy proposed by the Conservative leadership of NHDC set out at least a further £600,000 cuts in the next two years. Even then over £2 million of council reserves will have to be used, raiding the savings just to barely make ends meet. And that’s the trouble with austerity, it’s a false economy – the big pothole fund wouldn’t be needed if councils hadn’t been forced to neglect our roads in the first place!

The chancellor’s claim of an extra £650m for adult social care rings just as hollow – they’re making a £1.3bn cut to council budgets next year, so overall, we’re still £650m worse off.

Schools don’t, as the chancellor says, need “little extras”! Headteachers are begging parents for donations to buy textbooks, stationery and toilet rolls. Their budgets have been cut by over £2bn since 2015 – the promise of less than a fifth back won’t meet our children’s needs. Local parents, teachers and councillors wrote to our MPs, we wrote to the Education Secretary. We told them our schools are breaking. Our words fell on deaf ears.

We can all see the evidence around us in our local community; closed playgrounds, rundown schools, crumbling roads, blocked drains, the threatened loss of our health shuttle. Does it feel like austerity is over to you? No, me neither.

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We need an innovative, hands-on response. Your Labour district councillors will be honest about the funding crisis, so that we can be realistic in taking care of our area – because we can only combat austerity with good local government.

For example, the chancellor’s reduction in business rates for small businesses is most welcome but, to ensure this really helps our own high streets, we’ll need to listen to those business owners, tradespeople and community groups who have the ideas to bring our towns back to life. It can’t happen without good local government – more of the same won’t cut it in these tough times.

Your local council doesn’t have to preside over the gradual run down of NHDC services in the face of government cuts. The local Labour team will work to increase income and make our council part of our community, to improve the way that vital services are run.

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