Ealing Council is currently being forced to take some very difficult decisions as we struggle to balance our budget and deal with £183m cuts that are being imposed on us by the Tory led government (let's not forget the LibDems who are holding the Tories coats as they pummel local government). These agonising decisions are being made even more difficult by the cynical and callous spin of the Tories nationally and locally. Their well deserved reputation as the nasty party is something they are desperately trying to cover up in the run up to the General Election on 7 May and they are telling some huge whoppers and also posing as the friends of the vulnerable when they themselves are responsible for the desperate choices Labour are faced with locally.
Tory whopper number 1 - Ealing Council is receiving more money now in 2015/16 than it was in 2010 so why is it making all these cuts.
This is an outrageous manipulation of the truth emanating from the DCLG office of Eric Pickles and being regurgitated by local Tories. Respected local government expert Tony Travers has exposed DCLGs sleight of hand describing it as 'epic creativity in its attempt to show Council spending rising.' Ministers include housing benefit - totally in the control of central government and councils merely pass it on to recipients - and public health in the calculations because they have risen but exclude education spending because the creation of academies has reduced local government budgets. Travers concludes that 'this juicy sum' of housing benefit and public health 'just outweighs the cuts councils have had to make to the budgets they directly control.'
The bald unvarnished truth is that Ealing Council is facing unprecedented cuts to its controllable budget of £96m over the next 4 years having just had to find £87m during the previous 4 years. This is like all Councils up and down the country, leading the National Audit office to predict that half of councils are at risk of financial failure within 5 years.
Tory whopper number 2 - Labour in Ealing has deliberately cut £50m from its budget in general election year in order to cause maximum pain to residents and blame the government when it only needed to cut £35m to balance the budget.
With the eye-wateringly high figure of £96m cuts over the next 4 years we set a target of £50m in 2015/16. If you have a mountain to climb you don't lie in bed until midday before starting - you get up at the crack of dawn and head to the summit. However the mountain is so high and difficult to climb we have only managed to find £31m cuts in this first year and have just been able to balance the budget without drawing on reserves. Over the 4 years we are still £30m short of the £96m but have at least reached base camp and can now take a breather after setting this year's budget later this month before looking to tackle the next stage of the mountain later this year as we prepare the 2016/17 budget.
Tory whopper number 3 - Ealing is getting extra money from the government through the Better Care Fund and so can meet the social care needs of the vulnerable and doesn't need to take difficult decisions around day care centres.
With over 50% of our controllable budget spent on social care it is impossible to protect this service from the cuts. A recent BBC report also showed that in the UK over the last 10 years spending by Councils on social care has reduced by 20% in real terms as budgets have been cut and the number of elderly has increased. This is true of Ealing and over the next four years we will have to find another £38m cuts to our adult social care budget. The Better Care Fund although welcome is only sticking plaster when placed in the context of these cuts.
All this adds up to us being in the impossible position of being forced to make decisions where we choose between providing a new model of day care to vulnerable residents in order to balance our budget and trying to protect as best we can the social care packages to the most vulnerable in their homes. It is an invidious and heartbreaking choice that we have been compelled to make and no one should be in any doubt notwithstanding the Tories and LibDems high moral tone and cynical manipulation of truth that they are the ones to blame for this sorry state of affairs.
Cllr Julian Bell