End of Year, No Christmas Cheer.
In 1983 the then Tory Government of the sainted Margaret Thatcher discussed the managed decline of the City of Liverpool at Cabinet level. Despite the fact that their plans were never pursued, it is unbelievable to think that a British Government would plunge the depths of political depravity in this manner, but it is a matter of recorded history that this nuclear option was considered by the very people who were elected to look after our interests.
In 2013 that same perverse view of Liverpool is manifest within the Tory Government of David Cameron, and Thatcher’s dream is beginning to be realised.
As Glenda Jackson MP infamously said, as a child growing up in post-war Britain she was taught that selfishness; greed and a fundamental lack of common decency, “were vices”. Thatcherism sought to turn those same vices into virtues.
On Wednesday in the House of Commons, her legacy was cemented a little further as the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Eric Pickles) was asked to answer an Urgent Question in regard to next round of local government spending.
He didn’t do it. Instead he left it to the Junior Minister to flex his muscles.
Unsurprisingly, (but nonetheless shocking), Liverpool City Council was hit hardest. Cuts totalling 52% of the budget it received in 2010 were announced with arrogant indecency by the Minister, Brandon Lewis. The latest cut of 5.5% will have a devastating effect on a city that is working tirelessly to pull itself up by its own economic bootstraps.
Liverpool is not asking for handouts (all cities get a funding allocation), but instead is simply asking for a fair local government settlement that doesn’t disproportionately hit one of the most deprived areas in the country.
Not only is our cut the biggest of any city, but some areas (38 in total) will either receive a flat settlement, or indeed, an increase in funding. How can that be fair? What happened to the Chancellor’s claim that he wouldn’t balance the budget on the backs of those in most need? What happened to the government mantra that “we‘re all in this together”?
The reality on Merseyside is, as Andy Burnham eloquently put it yesterday, “The Government is tearing up the social fabric of England’s most deprived city. This is a city in which people struggle to feed their kids and to make ends meet. Council services are utterly crucial in helping people to cope. The Government do not understand, or they do not care, and they just rip up the fabric of an entire city. It is disgraceful”.
Thatcherism was a scourge that led to the devastation of huge swathes of working class areas up and down the country, but hit Liverpool harder than most. It has taken decades to shake off the impact of those right-wing destructive policies, only for a Tory-led Coalition to clobber us again.
So hell-bent on shoring up rural support in Tory shires – the blue and yellow Tories discarded previously recognised indices of multiple deprivation that provided a safeguard that delivered additional support for areas of greatest need.
Instead they have transferred the majority of the current round of cuts (as they have previously done) onto the shoulders of areas that can least afford reductions. As Hilary Benn said, “Tough times do indeed require tough decisions, but this Government, as they have shown time and again, from the bedroom tax to the top rate of tax and local government funding, take most from those who have least. That is unfair and unjust”.
Perhaps what has made this announcement even more difficult to accept are two things:
Firstly, on the same day the Office for National Statistics released the nation’s unemployment figures for November 2013. The figures released would have you believe that unemployment levels are falling across the country, but fail to indicate that the majority of these jobs are low paid; most are temporary, fixed term contracts or part time and they are not equally distributed. However, what figures do tell us is that the price of living in Britain today is too high. Wages are no longer just stagnating, but rapidly declining in real terms and we have a cost-of-living crisis.
Further, my constituency of Liverpool Walton, has moved from having the twelfth highest unemployment rate in the country to now having the ninth. It’s a top 10 that I don’t want to be in this Christmas!
However, the second part of today’s announcement which sticks in the craw, is the manner of the way in which it was delivered in the commons by an unbelievably out of touch Brandon Lewis. Perhaps he knows that with his inevitable defeat in Great Yarmouth in 2015, he is on borrowed time at the dispatch box, but nonetheless, to stick the proverbial two fingers up and announce that the settlement was “good news for local authorities”, was quite frankly, disgusting.
I asked him to come to Liverpool to check the books for himself (an offer previously made by the Mayor of Liverpool). Some may have seen my reaction to his answer in the Chamber. The Speaker didn’t like it, but I wasn’t in the mood to play games. These cuts will really hurt.
A cumulative 52% cut means that Liverpool City Council will not only have to make staff redundant, but it will not be able to fulfil the requirement to deliver statutory services to the same level it has to date. In other words, keeping our libraries open will be virtually impossible, services for the young and old will be decimated, children’s centres will be affected, street lighting and roads will not be repaired at the same rate - and as for the Cultural sector which was instrumental in our European Capital of Culture bid, who knows?
What was so devastating was to watch decisions being made, decisions that will detrimentally effect our history, heritage and traditions, and which will adversely affect every man, woman and child in our city – was the cold and calculated manner of its delivery by people who lack even basic levels of humility. Tories who would rather laugh and scoff at the devastation their proposal would cause, shirking the offer to come to look at the effects of their proposals and metaphorically giving a two fingered salute.
I know this is the time for Christmas cheer and good will to all men, but in light of what this government is inflicting on Liverpool next year (and the year after) – Bah humbug!