There are many days when being the leader of the council feels like an honour and a privilege. I am delighted to say that these days come around quite often.
Seeing the work that the council does or the achievements of our residents is always a delight for me and one of the main reasons I got in to politics. However there are days when being the leader of the council is pretty hard. Next Tuesday will be one of those days. We face a series of heart breaking decisions about how we balance our budget for the year ahead.
In Local Government we must always set a balanced budget with our income matching our revenue. If we have a shortfall we have to make cuts unlike the Tory-led Government who can just borrow more money. We also do not control how much money we get in. Most of our income as a council comes from central Government grants or from business rates, which we do not get to set. In fact the Tory-led Government have cut the amount the council gets dramatically. By the next local election in 2018 the Government will have cut the council’s income by £183m since I became leader in 2010.
The only way we can get more money in is to increase the council tax but we have committed to freeze the council tax this year because we as a Labour administration believe that local people are struggling with the cost of living crisis and it would be unfair to make them pay to make up the difference.
The huge scale of reductions we are facing means we are forced to make decisions we would never have considered before this Government started their cuts. We must ensure that the council continues to deliver the services we legally have to offer and this means that we must look at closing valuable additional services we have offered in the past. We will have to take decisions like this when we look at closing council day centres.
We understand that these services are hugely valued by the people that use them but we must look at what we can provide for the money we have. We have to provide social care support to vulnerable residents in their own homes or in care homes as a first priority. If the users of these services have that level of need they will receive a personalised budget to spend on day care services provided by third sector organisations in the community if we agree the proposals next Tuesday to close Council run day care. It is only fair that we focus the limited resources we have on those who need our help the most and so we are having to choose between basic social care at home which we can’t cut and finding cheaper ways of providing day care in the community. An invidious and heartbreaking choice but one we are being forced to take.
Taking decisions like this is the most difficult part of our jobs, especially as the reason we have to take these decisions is out of our hands. They are the fault of the bankers, the Tory-led Government’s failed economic policies and Eric Pickles’ reckless and disproportionate cutting of local government funding. This Government’s cuts have failed to deal with the deficit and heaped misery on those people who depend on public services. That’s why this year we should do all we can to bring back a Labour Government.