By Cllr Julian Bell, Leader of Ealing Council
This week Cllr Mahfouz (cabinet member for finance and leisure), Cllr Mason (cabinet member for housing, planning and transformation) and I attended the Local Government Association (LGA) Conference from Ealing Council. LGA Conference is the biggest annual gathering of councillors in the UK, with councillors from all over the country looking for innovative ideas and ready to hear from high profile speakers including Keir Starmer MP and Mark Carney, governor of the bank of England, about the future of local government.
James Brokenshire, the Tory secretary of state for local government, is well known for giving speeches full of platitudes rather than substance, and this was a classic of the genre. Time after time, he paid tribute to the hard work of councillors up and down the country while refusing to give any clarity on when we can expect confirmation of our future funding position. The recklessness of the Tory government with local government finance is staggering. While we’ve come to expect that a Tory in number 10 means austerity and huge spending cuts to councils, we haven’t even been told how big those cuts will be for the next few years. It’s unbelievable that any government could leave funding uncertain for vital services like social care, services that are vitally important for local people in Ealing.
Since 2010, we’ve lost £143m from our core government grant. That means we’ve lost 64p in every pound – higher than the London and national averages. While Ealing Labour councillors have worked hard to come up with new ideas, to use innovation and engage local communities in working for our borough, the hard truth is that council finances across the country are at breaking point and Ealing is no exception.
A strange highlight of LGA conference has always been listening to the Tory chair of the LGA criticise their own party for their ideological decision to slash local government funding, and the new chair James Jamieson continued in the same spirit. Discontent among Tory councils is growing, with more of them privately admitting that austerity is a cruel and unworkable policy. Unfortunately, Tory councillors in Ealing go the other way, and last month we watched them laughing in the Council Chamber as Ealing Labour councillors made passionate speeches about the real impact of austerity on our communities.
I was reminded this week of how hard Labour councillors are working to deliver for local people in difficult circumstances. We might not be in power in Westminster, but Labour are in power in local government all over the UK, and we are making a difference to people’s lives. No Labour councillor enters local government wanting to reduce budgets and make hard decisions, but that’s what the Tory government have forced us into. It was gratifying to see that despite funding being slashed, Labour councils are still ambitious and looking for new ways to deliver for residents.
Ultimately, we know that local people in Ealing deserve better. With ongoing Brexit chaos and the spectre of prime minister Boris looming, a people’s vote and a general election can’t come soon enough. Until then, Ealing Labour will continue to work hard to deliver for local people in the face of Tory cuts.