BACK in 2013-14 the austerity programme was already well under way. Chancellor George Osborne’s cuts were in their third and fourth years and, as they were ‘front loaded’, for local authorities meant annual savings of around £70-80m.
As the then deputy leader of Leeds City Council, I can say we had some sleepless nights of how on earth we were going to bring in yet another balanced budget.
We sustained ourselves in just trying to get over the line to the General Election in 2015 in the hope that a Labour government would stop the worst excesses of austerity and bring council finances back on a somewhat even keel.
That of course never happened – and the rest, as they say, is history.
However that was a very long seven years ago and the dramatic cuts have continued year on year. Most councils in the land now have much less than 50 per cent of the grant funding they were allocated in 2010.
Senior colleagues in the council have written out to all members to advise of lengthy delays in day to day business right across the board; in almost every department some 60-80 frontline staff have left in the past few months and because of factors such as Covid, the pressures have actually increased.
Look around you and you will see: nearly every park bench, certainly in Roundhay Park, needs a total refurb; the potholes saga continues and with winter coming, repair costs will spiral exponentially; schools are asking parents to chip in more and more; staff shortages across all sectors are adding to delay and neglect.
The city has felt the strain for years, but the whole public and voluntary sectors are near to a catastrophic and chaotic point, where core services are irreparably damaged. And these of course affect everyone in the city.
We know the charges are higher for less, and with the burden for social care being put squarely on council finance, council tax will increase more than it could.
Most people will be massively anxious about the next few months – inflation up and away, heating costs at record levels, food shortages as well as more costly, dire warnings about energy and other companies collapsing and yet business assistance diminished and Universal Credit slashed back.
There are many elderly people, often isolated and alone, and yes, also normal working households, where ends will not meet. More sleepless nights for many, I fear!