Reevesey's recommended reading

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Labour run Haringey Council - the truth about the cuts

I tend to keep my eye on the political situations in the areas I have worked for the last decade, after working for Lynne Featherstone MP as her head of office immediately after the 2005 general election for eighteen months, Harinegy is one of those on my watch list.

In 2006 we were just 94 votes away from taking control of Haringey Council, unfortunately in 2010 that goal slipped, but the silver lining was Lynne holding her seat and then going on to become a Minister of State.

Haringey Council run by old Labour for years has never been shy of blaming other people when they have had to make cuts, so this year when they announced they were having to slice £60million from the budget, everyone wondered who's fault it was.

The Labour Councillors blamed the new coalition government.

The Daily Telegraph journalist, Andrew Gilligan decided to look at the books, rather than just believe the hype.
Long-suffering readers of Haringey People, Haringey Council's taxpayer-funded propaganda newspaper, used to know what to expect. Smiling Labour politicians at new Sure Start centres, holding shovels. Happy multi-ethnic children in eco-friendly wigwams. Page after glossy page on how their brilliant council had turned this grimy chunk of north London into a municipal Shangri-La, one composting bin at a time.

Now, however, to the consternation of local residents, Haringey People's world has suddenly and dramatically darkened. Uplifting articles about new fairtrade procurement schemes have given way to vast pieces printed on sinister black backgrounds and illustrated with tottering piles of pound coins.

"The government cuts are a hammer blow to the people of Haringey," says a grim-faced council leader, Claire Kober, in the rag's latest issue. Overnight, it seems, evil Tory cuts have transformed Avalon into Hades.
Photo: Demotix/melpressmen
In Andrew Gilligan's article he really does look at everything the Council published, and then looks behind the closed doors and investigates the figures in great detail, leaving no stone unturned.
Last week, in rowdy scenes, Haringey voted to close four residential care homes and six old people's day centres, halve park maintenance and cut three-quarters of its youth service: hammer blows indeed, at least for users of those services, and a tale repeated across the country as local authorities struggle to come to grips with the spending cuts demanded by the Lib-Con coalition.
The article goes on.

Haringey says the £60 million was their estimate before they knew their full grant settlement, and the £46 million was publicised before some last contributions from Whitehall came in. They insist there is "no question of our having exaggerated the impact of these unprecedented cuts".
Yet the story doesn't end there. According to the council's own budget papers, the cut in its Whitehall grant next year will actually be £27 million – less than half the amount it initially claimed.

So, if the council's grant is going down by only £27 million, why is it cutting £41 million? Well, a few months ago (coincidentally, just as the anti-cuts campaign was getting up steam), a mysterious need to spend an extra £26 million next year, described as a "change and variation" figure, popped up in Haringey's accounts. Without this, the budget would be more or less in balance without needing many cuts.

We asked the council what this £26 million was for. They said it was partly inflation – which you'd think they might have allowed for already – and partly because they expected there to be "increased demand pressures" on their services over the next three years.

Service demand may indeed grow as the economy continues to stutter. The population is also getting older, and the elderly are a big part of council budgets. But, according to its own figures, Haringey is budgeting for 85 per of the "increased demand" over the three-year period to come in the first year alone. And though "changes and variations" are, insists the council, annual events in its accounting process, it just so happens that next year's is unusually large – though Haringey denies front-loading to make the squeeze look worse.

Even ministers admit that a lot of money has been taken away from councils this year, and it seems clear that some cuts have been forced on Haringey. But the actual amount needed is anyone's guess. It could be the council's £41 million. Or it could be as low as £10 million. Local government finance has been more or less deliberately designed – by Whitehall as much as town hall – to be hideously complicated, to frustrate real accountability and to allow everyone to blame everyone else.

On the subject of £10 million, there's one last nugget from the Haringey Council paperwork. As part of its budget process, the council was obliged to assess the impact of each cut. This has been buried pretty deep, but once you find it, it turns out that just under, well, £10 million of the cuts next year – nearly a quarter – are assessed by even the council itself as having nil, minimal or even, in a few cases, beneficial impacts on service users. In other words, it is at least possible that Haringey might have needed few, if any, "hammer-blow" cuts.

But that might not have made such a good headline in the Haringey People.
Well done to Andrew Gilligan to not just believing the hype coming out from Miliband and his cronies across the country.

You can read the full article here as I have only used two extracts.

They have left this country paying £120million per day in interest alone on the debts they left behind, it really is time that they and their councillors in Haringey started taking some responsibility for their actions instead of trying to blame everyone else around them.

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