At yesterday’s joint budget scrutiny meeting councillors agreed to urge all Devon MPs to speak AND vote against the council cuts debate in the House of Commons, which is expected to take place early in February.
Between April 2017 and March 2018 a huge £23m must be struck from budgets – a 15 per cent cut.
We are now in the eighth year of austerity and Devon County Council’s annual government grant has plummeted by well over half – from £283m in 2010 to £128m.
We continue to see our roads break and fracture. The government gives councils a fraction of the money that has been cut and the blames councils when it can’t repair all the roads. Some roads are simply deteriorating and will not be properly repaired.
Almost all Devon County Council run care homes have shut, Devon County Council run youth centres have closed and many bus routes were lost or cut back.
Fortunately, many of the youth centres have continued in a different form. The Ottery youth centre is now run by the church and others are now run by a not for profit mutual company that was set up in order to keep them open. This is the same for the library service. After threats that libraries would close, the service was also transferred to a not for profit mutual, which has worked well so far in keeping the service going and attracting funding from alternative sources.
Children’s homes closed and funding has been cut for vulnerable children and adults.
Last month, the council removed some of the schools’ budget for special needs funding to make its books balance. This has plunged more Devon schools into an even worse financially austere position.
This year credits for community composters are proposed to be halved, putting at risk those very enterprises, as well as the possibility of an increase in material going to landfill, both environmentally unfriendly and expensive, due to the landfill tax charges. A risk of 800 tonnes of extra waste going to landfill has been identified as a risk in the scrutiny budget papers, that were examined yesterday in committee.
Cllr Croad indicated that he was considering phasing the composting credit rate cuts over three or four years, to reduce the hardship to the composters.
Now the council, which is trying to shore up a horribly underfunded social care budget that is overspent by around £5m, says it will have to reduce the number of people receiving social care.
Yesterday’s budget scrutiny risk assessments made for sobering reading – http://democracy.devon.gov.uk/documents/s5745/People%20Budget%20Report.pdf .
The language around adult social care was worrying. Risks on page 24-26 identified included:
– A requirement to reduce the number of clients to achieve budget levels which will be “challenging”
– Acknowledgement that the budget cuts would “severely test the capacity of managers at different levels, especially where pressures of essential work cannot be reprioritised without risk to those who receive services”
– Residential and nursing homes providing sufficient local care and an affordable price
I asked portfolio holder, Cllr Stuart Barker how confident he was that Devon County Council’s adult social care department would be able to cope with the widespread community hospital bed closures, including a further 72 in Eastern Devon.
Cllr Barker simply repeated the mitigation measures from the risk assessment.
I was far from convinced that the council is equipped to cope with the hospital bed losses, given the pressures outlined in the budget papers.
It is now absolutely imperative that MPs stand up for us in parliament. Our MP, Hugo Swire has expressed concern both about the hospital bed losses and the state that adult social care is in, due to austerity measures.
I have written to Mr Swire for the past two years asking that he puts residents before the conservative party line and votes against and speaks against the council cuts in parliament, but he has so far refused.
I will be writing to him again urging him to do exactly this. The vote in parliament on the latest round of austerity cuts to councils is set to take place in early February.
It is now time for him to step up and speak and vote against the latest appalling cuts to councils that is likely to cause yet more misery in his constituency.
It is completely unacceptable that the government is slashing the public funds for public services and forcing councils to increase council tax at a time when services are decreasing. Ministers hope that people will blame councils. Fortunately most people are intelligent enough to know why councils are cutting services.
It’s about time our MP publicly acknowledges this.
Devon County Council’s budget will be debated and voted on by councillors, on Thursday 16 February.
Here’s the webcast of yesterday’s meeting – https://devoncc.public-i.tv/core/portal/webcast_interactive/262632
Photograph: Some of the councillors at the joint budget scrutiny meeting yesterday.