Councillors will vote on a historic budget at Thursday’s Devon County council full meeting – the final budget to include the revenue support grant – the government’s core funding.
To put it into perspective, the Conservative government’s austerity programme has meant its core funding to Devon has plummeted to just over half a million pounds this year, a drop of over £100m to the council since 2010 when austerity began.
To try and raise extra revenue, council tax is set to increase again by 3.99 per cent, some of which will be ringfenced to help finance a totally inadequate adult social care situation.
Since 2010, council tax across public services in Devon has rocketed by well over 20 per cent, while each year services have been progressively and significantly eroded.
It is horribly cynical for ministers to falsely claim that austerity is for our own good, for the future of our children and about rebalancing the books when all the time it is penalising the poorest and most vulnerable in society, as demonstrated by the huge hike in council tax, combined with the lack of support generally available for people throughout the entire public sector.
Despite Theresa May’s breathtaking untruth last year that austerity was over (how do politicians get away with these lies?), the government has continued to ruthlessly cut funding, crippling councils and other public services, such as the police and fire, in the process.
Cuts made over the past nine years have become cuts on top of cuts on top of cuts.
We have seen residential care homes, children’s homes, children’s centres, youth centres, day centres closed, libraries reduced, support for the elderly slashed, support for vulnerable children slashed, support for disabled people slashed, potholes littering our roads and pretty much no budget to do anything at all, other than provide the most basic of services.
It is an abhorrent indictment of the ideological values of the government overseeing the sixth largest economy in the world.
So does our MP help out? Of course not. In order to maintain his near perfect record of loyalty to the government, Sir Hugo Swire, East Devon’s MP voted once again this year in favour of these massive cuts, as he does every year.
Unfortunately, Brexit is making a bad situation even worse, due to the impact of staffing, particularly on services such as home care and residential care. This is particularly highlighted in the risk assessment attached to the budget papers.
Looking through the budget papers for Thursday’s meeting makes sobering reading.
Of particular note this year is the children’s social care budget, with significant pressure on residential care placements and the school transport budget.
Special educational needs is also now a huge pressure, as the government refused a request by Devon County Council to top slice the schools budget to plug the gap in this budget.
Understandably, the schools had been very opposed to this course of action as they are struggling under austerity too.
As a result £3.5m has been transferred to council reserves to plan for potential major problems relating to special educational needs next year, when the government grant will no longer be available.
The uncertainty of Brexit and the possibility of the economy tanking has given the council jitters about the level of cuts they may need to make from next year. So Devon County Council’s proposed reserves now stand at around £90m, which puts it into the middle range of county councils in England.
Unfortunately, the government’s much trumpeted business rates retention scheme is a white elephant for Devon County Council, which as a rural authority does not have enough businesses in the area to make this a viable funding alternative to the government grant.
And other income streams are ad hoc and small. And often huge amounts of work go into bidding for such paltry pots of money.
In a move that would be amusing if it wasn’t so serious, the council must actually pay central government £16m this year, following its involvement in a business rates pilot scheme, where it was given extra funding.
These relentless cuts are beyond reprehensible and are as a result of hardline, short-sighted, ideological politics, especially when one takes into account the tens of billions of pounds currently being spent on a totally unnecessary Brexit.
I will be showing my distaste for austerity by speaking against, and voting against the budget on Thursday (21 February).
The meeting starts at 2.15pm and will be webcast live here https://devoncc.public-i.tv/core/portal/home
Pic: Supporting Devon foster carers last year