Local councils at ‘breaking point’

Fiona Onasanya
Fiona Onasanya

T o say that we have a crisis in local government is an understatement. Despite warning after warning from cash-strapped councils, the government is still devolving austerity to the extent where some of Britain’s biggest cities are concerned about a “catastrophic collapse” of local authorities.

I echo that sentiment here in Peterborough. With an 80% cut to our government grant, Peterborough City Council have pushed through swathes of cuts year after year, with this year’s proposed budget looking as bleak as the previous one.

It is especially worrying that in the latest UN Report on extreme poverty in the UK, the gutting of local authority funding is cited as one of the reasons why the situation is so severe.

Moreover, councils such as Northamptonshire council, who are facing bankruptcy, are already effectively being bailed out by the government due to the devastating financial situation they find themselves in.

As the sixth richest country in the world, I am simply staggered that our government can stand by and impose this mindless, reckless austerity agenda on local authorities – knowing full well the impact it will have on local services, particularly health and social care and vital public services. I stand by my belief that austerity is a political choice, not an economic necessity, and the choice the government is making is hurting those who rely on well-funded, reliable and accessible council services the most.

The government talks about devolution, but you cannot empower local government if you cut it to the bone at the same time. How can they be a model for effective governance if they are forced to slash day-to-day services such as bin collections and road repairs? It’s time that council leaders stood up to the government and demand a fair funding settlement so they can once again provide high-quality services.

Let me be clear: councils across the country are at breaking point, and they cannot continue on the current path the government is ushering them down. This is why I was dismayed at the lack of resistance from our council and the so-called ‘Stand up for Peterborough’ campaign. It appears they have rolled-over and accepting the ‘difficult decisions’ narrative the government is pursuing instead of being combative and challenging the austerity agenda.

Peterborough deserves better, and councils across the country do as well. Let’s have the courage to take a stand against the national scandal of devolved austerity. While the Prime Minister has the gall to declare that “austerity is over”, those reliant on local public services will disagree wholeheartedly. In fact, I am concerned that this is not even the worst of it! It’s time to plug the mammoth gap the Conservatives have left in local government budgets.

The situation has never been more urgent, and if local authorities are going to be successful in helping the poorest, the most vulnerable, and providing high-quality services for all, then big changes must be made without fear or favour.