January 28: Councils are compromised

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THERE are any number of figures that prove the Tory-led coalition’s growth strategy is bearing fruit. Employment is rising at around twice the rate of Germany, our nearest competitor, and Britain emerged as the world’s fastest growing major economy in 2014.

A benefits bill that spiralled out of control under Labour is being tackled, and David Cameron says that the first priority of a post-election Conservative government would be to further tighten the welfare cap to £23,000, with the proceeds being used to create three million apprenticeships that will help break the cycle of stunted ambition that has left generations of the same families reliant on state handouts.

However, for all the welcome common sense that the Conservatives have brought to fiscal policy, there are some areas of concern that cannot be ignored. Chiefly, the pressure being felt by local councils which, according to today’s report by the Public Accounts Committee, is now compromising their ability to perform essential functions.

The problem lies, as it always has done, in the fact that the funding reductions have not hit all authorities equally, with northern authorities with the greatest spending needs suffering cuts that are disproportionate to those experienced by councils in wealthier, largely southern areas.

The committee is right to highlight this disparity – yet it goes further, voicing fears that further cuts could not just undermine the provision of optional services but statutory ones too. This calls into question the ability of councils, not least those in Yorkshire, to fulfil one of their most fundamental priorities – namely to protect those most at risk.

In the wake of the Rotherham abuse scandal and regular reports of failing care homes, we cannot afford further cuts to be blindly enforced without due diligence in terms of assessing how councils will cope. At all times, one simple question must be asked: will this make it more or less likely that vulnerable people will fall through holes in the nets that are supposed to catch them?

Back to Auschwitz

Horrors have echoes today

SITTING quietly in the darkened room, listening intently to the speaker, the audience could have been mistaken for attendees at a high-profile business conference.

But it was the striped hats and smocks that jarred – the uniforms once worn by inmates at the Nazi death camp that has long been a byword for horror: Auschwitz.

Donned once more by the camp’s handful of survivors who have lived long enough to bear testimony to the unimaginable ordeals they endured, the garments became badges of honour at yesterday’s 70th commemoration of the camp’s liberation – a symbol of the ability of the human spirit to endure even the most unspeakable savagery.

The tears of the survivors, some of whom were returning to the place where their loved ones were exterminated for the first time, spoke of memories that remained all too fresh in their minds. Yet their frailty exposed the fact that they will soon be gone.

The stories of what happened in this corner of Poland – or at other camps across Nazi-occupied Europe – must not die with them. For it is a depressing thought that, with anti-Semitism once more on the rise, the horrors of Auschwitz resonate more strongly now than they have done at perhaps any other point since 1945.

The atrocities that took place at the camp were characterised by the complete absence of humanity, a trait shared by those acts now being committed by modern day fanatics who seek to once again promote slaughter

on the grounds of their own evil, warped ideology.

A man and his dog

Hope for farming industry

THE story of a farmer acquiring a new sheepdog would not, in the general run of things, be considered especially newsworthy.

However, Ella, the sheepdog in question, has been provided to farmer Sam Leng by the David Arnold-Forster Trust, a charity set up in honour of the late chief executive of the North Yorkshire Moors National Park.

And crucially, Sam is a 24-year-old apprentice keen to equip himself with the skills required to carry out the sustainable, upland hill farming that the charity works so hard to promote.

These are dark days for a farming industry which increasingly finds itself nearing crisis point. Such an infusion of fresh blood into the industry provides a welcome shot in the arm at a time when it is most needed.