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How many more underhanded ways can our underhanded Coalition government find to sneak crippling damage to public services in by the back door?
A particularly vile method has just been uncovered here in my own county of Powys, involving the collusion of councillors who are supposed to be independent (but you will see that their political colours are more blue than anything else).
The Coalition government has cut back its Aggregate External Grant to local authorities for next year – its subsidy to councils – by many millions of pounds. This means that councils need to cut huge sums of money from their budgets if they are to balance their books. In Powys, the total that must go is £20 million – around one-eleventh of the total budget.
The council launched a public consultation, asking residents for their views on which services should be cut and giving (in the broadest possible terms) examples of areas that could be changed. The total amount to be saved if constituents agreed to all the cuts was £16 million, with the rest to be taken from reserves – so there was no way to balance the books without making all the cuts listed in the document.
Hardly anybody was made aware of the survey in advance, and many have complained that they only found out about it after it had ended.
One of the “possible” cuts listed was to the Citizens Advice Bureau in Powys. The consultation document said all funding to advice services (£93,500 to the CAB, £36,500 to independent centres) would be cut, with alternative funding found from other budgets. This proved untrue.
As a trustee of the Powys CAB, I was told this week that the county council has no other budget that could be used, and that the intention is to cut the money no matter what the public consultation shows.
This means citizens advice services in Powys would be wiped out from the beginning of April.
You might think that’s not the end of the world. After all, who takes advantage of the services provided by this charity anyway – a few people with benefit problems and a few more who are in debt?
Wrong! Thousands of people go to Citizens Advice every year – and the numbers are increasing exponentially because of Tory and Liberal Democrat “savings” that were inflicted without consideration of the true cost on real people in our communities.
Not only will those seeking help with benefit entitlement and debt have nowhere to go, but those seeking advice because they are unemployed, have been unfairly dismissed, have housing concerns and the full range of advice that CAB provides through its proven quality advice will also have to struggle on their own.
There is a proven benefit to individuals’ health through the provision of advice; that’s why advice in Powys is provided through a number of GP surgeries. But that too will end, putting a greater burden on the National Health Service here in Wales (which is already under attack from the Tories in Westminster).
CAB brings millions of pounds into the county through ensuring benefit entitlement; there is also a considerable sum gained through renegotiated debts – the total comes to more than £11 million per year. This money benefits everyone in the Powys economy as it has been shown that it is generally spent locally – so there is a fiscal multiplier that can be added to it, meaning the total boost to the Powys economy could be as much as £20 million.
That’s the same amount as the county council wants to take out of the economy by cutting its budget. The total loss may therefore be said to be almost £40 million, just because a cut of less than £100,000 has been included in the council’s plans – 1/200 of the total amount of cuts.
If there is a similar knock-on effect attached to all the other cuts, the effect will be devastating.
You may think that it would be easy to seek advice elsewhere, but the nearest alternative bureaux are around 100 miles from the centre of Powys, in any direction – and they are already overburdened with their own clients.
You might think that councillors should be able to provide the necessary advice (especially considering they want to cut off the current source). Could you provide the kind of specialist expertise necessary to deal with difficult legal issues? No? Then you should not expect your councillors to manage it – they are lay people like yourself; they don’t have any training in these matters.
A petition has been launched to stop the county council from withdrawing its funding. If you are a Powys resident, I strongly urge you to sign it and ask your friends to sign as well. If you can’t be bothered, just ask yourself who will help you when the Coalition turns the screw again and you are the victim of its attack.
If you are not a Powys resident, consider this to be a warning. Is your own council planning to cut services? Will it launch a public consultation on what will go? And will that be as much a sham as the survey in Powys seems to have been?
Here’s the link: http://www.change.org/en-GB/petitions/powys-county-council-do-not-withdraw-any-grant-funding-to-powys-citizens-advice-bureau?share_id=annKPtMTpV&utm_campaign=signature_receipt&utm_medium=email&utm_source=share_petition
Above all, remember: This would not be happening if not for the Coalition government’s crippling programme of austerity-driven cuts which have had almost no effect in reducing the national deficit, even though we are told that is what it is for.
With its AEG, the government controls councils’ spending. Your local authorities are being used as puppets by the Westminster government, who can then wash their hands of the whole affair by saying the decisions were made elsewhere. And for what?
The deficit has dropped by a total of seven billion pounds – from £118 billion to £111 billion – in the time George Osborne has been Chancellor of the Exchequer.
You are suffering all the pain for absolutely no gain at all.
Why are you putting up with it?
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