Like many other Councils Newcastle receives the majority of its money from Central Government. The Coalition has cut Newcastle’s budget by more than almost all other councils in the country and by more than double the national average. If the Government cut to the Council’s budget was in line with the national average the Council would have £22m extra to spend in the financial year 2013-14 alone, which would protect almost all services at risk. However, we now have to cut £90m over the next three years, this is over a third of our £266m budget.
The result is that Newcastle City Council has to cut more services than almost any other council in the country as a direct result of Government decisions. We have published our budget proposals and libraries, leisure centres, respite care, social care and street sweeping are at risk.
‘Heat maps’ produced by our Director of Finance show which areas of the country have been hardest hit. It is Labour areas, with Hackney and Liverpool Councils facing cuts of over £260 per person, compared to just £2.70 in Dorset. The Government claim that this is ‘fair’ because Councils like Newcastle get more money than some councils in the South. That is not a measure of fairness that I have ever recognised. I believe that at the heart of public service is need, and that people receive services according to need. You don’t expect to go into hospital and get the same amount of treatment if you’d had a heart attack as if you had broken a finger.
In part due to the Coalition’s economic policy we are seeing an increase in children taken into care. At the same time the Government has cut funding for children’s social care by 43%. That is a scandal and nothing other than a dereliction of duty on the part of this Government. It is local councils that pick up that duty and the cost is felt through the closure of other services such as libraries. This pattern is repeated time and again, with the new homes bonus and the new public health formula redistributing money from poorer areas to areas already better off, from Labour areas to Conservative ones. The Audit Commission has published research showing that the areas with greatest need have had the greatest cuts.
Public services should be about narrowing the gap, giving people chances that others take for granted, and supporting people in times of crisis. Those principles are being eroded by this Government and they are again abandoning people and places they have abandoned in the past. Where Labour is talking of one nation, this Tory led government is actively creating a nation divided.
Nick Forbes is the Leader of Newcastle City Council