Pickles’ cuts will hurt those with the greatest need the most

December 21, 2012 12:00 pm

With under a week to go until Christmas, the Tories’ very own Santa Claus, Eric Pickles, delivered a sack full of unwanted presents to many of the hardest pressed councils in England on Wednesday. Durham County Council will receive cuts of 1.3% to its budget in 2013-14, whilst Newcastle will get a reduction of 1.5% in its funding from central government. However, West Oxfordshire Council—home of the Prime Minister’s Witney constituency—will get an increase of 2.8%.

Pickles seemed rather pleased with himself when he told Parliament yesterday that “Newcastle has a spending power per household of £2,522, which is well over £700 more than the £1,814 per household in Wokingham”. And as numerous Labour MPs rose to ask questions about the impact of the cuts on their area, Mr Pickles mostly just regurgitated back the spending power of their local authority. Such selective use of statistics, however, is very misleading, a point I made to him yesterday in the Commons: Pickles did not take into account the vast differences between the demands on services across different authorities.

9.7% of the residents in my authority of County Durham claim housing benefit—administered by local government—to top up their wages, compared to 4.6% of the population of Pickles’ Brentwood. And there are 101 children looked after by the council in Newcastle for every 10,000, compared to just 20 in Wokingham. So, each household in Newcastle may well have over £700 spent more per year on them than an equivalent in Wokingham. But this is a pretty redundant statistic when one acknowledges how much more authorities like Newcastle and Durham have to spend on services to help some of the poorest communities in the country. The key factor is local need, something entirely overlooked by ministers in the defence of their policy.

Therefore, Eric Pickles is a) being disingenuous with his use of numbers; b) doesn’t really understand the vital services that local authorities deliver for many of Britain’s most hard up communities; or c) doesn’t care and knows exactly what he’s doing: rewarding Tory voting areas in the Home Counties at the expense of the rest of the country. Unfortunately for him, none of these reflect well on his performance and abilities as Secretary of State.

It is Labour-led local authorities who are now on the frontline, dealing with the often devastating effect of the Tory-Lib Dem cuts. Many northern councils face devastating cuts, while demand for their services rise. Pickles’ strategy has been to blame the cuts on local councils, giving the impression that his actions have had nothing to do with it. On the contrary, the pain being faced by many local councils comes as a direct result of Tory and Liberal Democrat decision making at the heart of Government.

To rub salt into the wound, the Secretary of State packaged his announcement as “a fair settlement—fair to north and south, fair to rural and urban areas and fair to shires and mets”. Mr Pickles is obviously from the school of Tories who seems to think that the public will believe Government policies are fair, just because ministers say they are.

Clearly Pickles understands the importance of the language of fairness and the right platitudes to make. What he doesn’t grasp, however, is that those who will have to bear the brunt of his Government’s cuts know that his measures are not fair. Just like the majority of those strivers hit by George Osborne’s benefits cap, those councils, council tax payers and the most vulnerable will know they are getting a raw deal, despite the Secretary of State’s warm words.

The leader of Pickles’ Brentwood council, Louise McKinley, yesterday urged other local authorities to “take tough choices without winging on the sidelines”. With Sure Start centres closing and services to disabled children being hit, people from the poorest areas of the UK have the right to ask why it is they who will be suffering the most from DCLG’s axe wielding, whilst those in the Prime Minister’s affluent constituency will receive more.

This isn’t about “winging”; it’s about a basic sense of fairness, something which seems to have eluded Eric Pickles.

Kevan Jones is the Member of Parliament for North Durham and is the Shadow Armed Forces Minister. 

  • Geektapestry

    Kevan, did you know that the Head of the National commissioning board has cut the link to poverty / deprivation indexes in allocating funding to groups?

  • leslie48

    This is such an important message for Labour to get over but I feel we are not – our sting is too soft. We need to be harder, quicker with the punches. One example is – and forgive me if you think this is off topic – the Comet collapse which is being reported as ‘murky’. This nationwide closure will cost the taxpayer over 50 millions yet the OpCapita private equity owners are gaining -you guessed it 50 millions- some are saying these people will get more. Labour needs to fling these sensations back at the Eton Boys. Moreover if we have people in top Labour who do not understand this murky stuff. .Hire them.

  • leslie48

    This is such an important message for Labour to get over but I feel we are not – our sting is too soft. We need to be harder, quicker with the punches. One example is – and forgive me if you think this is off topic – the Comet collapse which is being reported as ‘murky’. This nationwide closure will cost the taxpayer over 50 millions yet the OpCapita private equity owners are gaining -you guessed it 50 millions- some are saying these people will get more. Labour needs to fling these sensations back at the Eton Boys. Moreover if we have people in top Labour who do not understand this murky stuff. .Hire them.

Latest

  • News Blair says the West must be prepared to work with Putin and the Egyptian military

    Blair says the West must be prepared to work with Putin and the Egyptian military

    Tony Blair may not have been Prime Minister for nearly seven years now, but his views – particularly on foreign policy – are always newsworthy. This morning he gave a wide-ranging and controversial speech at Bloomberg’s London HQ on the Middle East, urging the West not to pull back from the Middle East as an unsolvable problem, but to engage. Although despite the billing, this was as much a speech about faith as it was about geo-politics. At the roots of Blair’s […]

    Read more →
  • News Labour set up rapid rebuttal unit for election campaign

    Labour set up rapid rebuttal unit for election campaign

    Labour plan to step up their media monitoring process in the run up to the 2015 general election, according to The Independent. A team will be in charge of rebutting negative media to avoid a re-run of the 1992 election, where an onslaught of attacks from the press played their part in a unexpected Conservative victory. Michael Dugher, the MP in charge of Labour’s communications, is this week in the US discussing strategy with new appointment David Axelrod and other political […]

    Read more →
  • Featured UKIP, England and St George

    UKIP, England and St George

    Labour tends to view UKIP like Nelson viewed the signal at the Battle of Copenhagen. He held the telescope to his blind eye and said, ‘I really do not see the signal’.  Our image of  UKIP is a protest vehicle for disaffected, older, right wing Tories in the South. But UKIP represents more significant trends than this caricature suggests. UKIP is a symptom of the deep social and economic changes that have taken place over the last thirty years. Its […]

    Read more →
  • News Why are the Lib Dems so shy?

    Why are the Lib Dems so shy?

    Regular readers will know that we’re always keeping an eye on Lib Dems leaflets. Their local propaganda sheets are always good for a questionable bar chart, or forgetting the name of the generic place their text is for – but they can also be quite shy about their party affiliation too. For example, take the “Islington Chronicle”. Sounds like a local paper, and there’s no Lib Dem logo and barely a splash of their trademark yellow. But it is, in […]

    Read more →
  • News Scotland Seats and Selections Have the Tories given up on Scotland?

    Have the Tories given up on Scotland?

    This morning we noted that the Tories haven’t selected candidates in nearly half of the most marginal Labour and Lib Dem seats. But what’s particularly telling is that in over 60% of target seats in the Midlands and the North they have so far failed to select a candidate, while the Independent claims that in Scotland there are no Tory parliamentary candidates at all. However, Mark Wallace over at ConHome notes that the Tories have in fact selected a total of two […]

    Read more →