Warren Morgan: Painful choices in the face of funding cuts

Campaigns have already started, to save libraries, play services, and special needs centres.

This week I saw for the first time the budget papers drawn up by each department in the council, as they try to find savings of 30% for next year and the coming four years.

We have to find £7 million to balance the books this year, and cuts of £25 million a year in order to stop the council facing a funding gap of more than £100 million in 2019.

The choices are painful.

Campaigns have already started, to save libraries, play services, and special needs centres.

More campaigns will follow, all quite understandably asking us to cut somewhere else.

Not cutting one area by 30% means we have to cut another area by more than 30%. The choices again are painful.

Another campaign calls on us not to reduce the council tax discount we give to those on very low incomes. We will try to keep the discount at 70% or more, but the government are cutting funding for that as well, so doing it will mean further cuts elsewhere. More painful choices.

Some argue we could increase council tax or set an illegal budget to avoid the cuts. We’d need an increase of almost 30% in council tax bills to do that, approved in a referendum.

If agreed, that kind of increase would surely push more into poverty. If it wasn’t, costs of a failed referendum would add another million to our cuts.

Setting an illegal budget would only hand control of the council to the government, guaranteeing even deeper cuts and rapid privatisation of services.

If there were easier, less painful, more electorally popular choices, as a politician I’d take them.

What we will do is work to get people out of poverty.

This week I announced we will seek to build a thousand new homes, with rents capped at 40% of Living Wage and protected from Right To Buy, to add to the 500-plus council homes we aim to build.

We will work hard to secure more jobs and better wages, better education, and real apprenticeships.

Our Fairness Commission will look for innovative ways of working together to help those most in need. And we will ask businesses, communities, and individuals to step forward to help.

We will put services before buildings, and people before politics every time.

The response to these cuts to our services imposed by the government is not to fight amongst ourselves, but to organise and build stronger communities, a stronger economy, and a stronger society where we look after each other, not just ourselves. That choice should not be a difficult one.