January 2015 – Local Welfare Cuts Likely Despite Government Assurances
Local councils will continue to be able to offer local welfare assistance from within existing budgets 'if they judge it a priority in their area', the government has said.
In a statement Local Government Minister Kris Hopkins, announcing the provisional local government finance settlement for 2015 to 2016, said that -
'This government is putting our public finances back on track. Local government - like every part of the public sector - has made a significant contribution to this. However, the job is not done ... in the coming years, very substantial savings must be made in public spending.'
To this end, the Minister confirmed that English councils will face an average cut of 1.8 per cent in their overall spending power next year and, in relation to local welfare provision, said -
'Local authorities will continue to be able to offer local welfare assistance from within existing budgets, alongside a range of other services for 2015 to 2016 if they judge it a priority in their area. The government has always been clear councils should choose how best to support local welfare needs – because what is right for Croydon will not be for Cumbria. Therefore this allocation will not be ring-fenced and we will not be placing any new duties, expectations or monitoring requirements on its use.
Over the last year, councils have increased their reserves by £2.2 billion so they now stand at a total of £21.4 billion. Authorities should of course maintain a healthy cushion when balancing the books. However, local taxpayers would be right in asking whether such substantial reserves are necessary.'
Later, in a debate on the government's announcement, the Minister was asked to clarify whether any extra money is being given to councils to provide local welfare assistance, and responded -
'There is no additional money in this ... In devolving powers to local authorities and enabling them to make choices, local authorities need to be transparent and open about the choices they make ... I challenge local people to make sure that those authorities make the right choice to protect those individuals in need.'
This sums up the Government’s approach – no extra money, make local people believe that it is the local authority that is to blame if cuts in provision are made and use the spurious argument around reserves to make it seem as if local authorities are still awash with money, forgetting to mention that reserves are not savings, they are amounts allocated to future spend such as redevelopment projects, house building or road repairs.
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