Today is Budget Day and like every year it falls on a Wednesday, making it something I both have to cover and yet where print deadlines prevent any certain knowledge of its contents.
Fortunately, the Chancellor has kindly leaked most of it in advance, which the Speaker highlighted is historically grounds for resignation. Yet, this is a Government which doesn’t believe in resignation, whether it be due to principle, mistakes made in office, or actual treason.
Reading the pre-announcements, it’s all positive stuff. Why wouldn’t it be? If you want to spin the Budget as positive you focus on good news and hide everything bad in the small print.
So, while we hear the minimum wage is rising and public sector pay is being unfrozen, we also know the amounts discussed won’t cover the rising cost of living, Universal Credit cuts for those in work, and tax increases targeted at those on low incomes. The Government might get good press from it, but households won’t be better off.
There are also new spending commitments, such as funding to re-open Children and Family Centres just as West Sussex County Council has finished closing most of them on the grounds they apparently aren’t of any use. I wonder how County Hall will spin their re-opening.
However, the Chancellor has already been forced to accept these new spending commitments aren’t from ‘new’ money, funding them will mean enduring even more cuts elsewhere after a decade of austerity and councils remain an obvious target.
Local government was the most efficient part of the public sector even before austerity and since then we’ve faced the harshest cuts. Crawley’s net revenue has been slashed by two-thirds, resulting in the painful cuts we had to make in February. If Government forces us down this road again the next cuts will be far more painful even with council tax increasing the maximum amount.
That’s why I wrote to the Chancellor this week with other councillors, making it clear our communities cannot continue to bear the cost of the Government’s decisions. We’ll see today if he has listened to reason.
Cllr Peter Lamb
Leader, Crawley Borough Council