Opinion: Tories fiddle whilst England burns​​​​​​​​​​​​​​

It was great to see former Bank of England economist and Shadow Chancellor, Rachel Reeves in Peterborough last Saturday morning, writes Labour Group leader Dennis Jones.
Rachel Reeves' visit to Peterborough on SaturdayRachel Reeves' visit to Peterborough on Saturday
Rachel Reeves' visit to Peterborough on Saturday

​Despite her busy schedule, this is Rachel’s second visit to Peterborough in recent months to support Peterborough’s excellent Labour and Cooperative parliamentary candidate, Andrew Pakes for our campaign day.

It is timely as there are forty councils in England that are in deep financial difficulty. And Peterborough, despite the dire financial situation it remains in after two years of help from an Improvement panel, isn’t among them.

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The Local Government Association has also warned councils face a total funding gap of more than £4billion over the next two years, with one in five councils fearing they will go bust as seven authorities already have.

Please do not run away with the idea that all at risk are profligate, Labour run, authorities either. Many, like Peterborough, have long been Conservative controlled for many years.

Peterborough received £55M from central government in 2014. That figure will be below £12M this year, 2024; a reduction of over £43M. At a recent LGA conference, our Chief Financial Officer and Cabinet member for finance were, along with other attendees, advised to ‘spend your reserves’.

Reserves are the rainy-day fund that, with any luck, most people need to make ends meet in times of dire need. How much do you have in savings or can call upon to meet an unexpected emergency, or bill, or mortgage hike, or price rise for everyday items such as food and provisions to feed and clothe yourself or your family?

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But there is a light on the horizon in this election year. There is a budget coming up in March that could herald the start of the General Election campaign. The current Chancellor, Jeremy Hunt, is likely to cut National Insurance for workers. So, whilst your local authority is in dire financial straits, workers may be offered a few extra pounds in pay packets to think the Tories are on their side in an effort to move the dial away from Labour who continue to have a strong lead in the polls. Me? Cynical?

Peterborough will be a key battleground in the General Election whenever it is held this year. Sweeteners, in the form of reductions in NI, will not make up the shortfall in finances to our beleaguered local authorities, where the funding shortfall stands at an estimated £1,286,300,000 nor, it appears, will it move the dial back towards a discredited Tory government no matter how many inducements they offer.

It was a delight to welcome Rachel Reeves to Peterborough. It will be an even greater delight to welcome the much-needed change we need for a fairer, cleaner, greener city and country.

At full council last week, the Labour group backed a motion to call for a ceasefire in Gaza. I cannot pretend this was a well worded motion that was tougher on Israel than Hamas but not disproportionately.

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You may recall that my column back in October, shortly after the atrocities of 7 th October, called for a ceasefire and the release of hostages. What I hope that it does signal is Peterborough stands united in calling for a ceasefire and access to justice for all prisoners and the release of hostages before events spiral even further out of control in the region.