Jeremy Hunt is making a Parliamentary Statement today which could make the cuts of £73 million + proposed for Liverpool even worse.
The Liverpool Council budget document which was issued last night is a calamitous document for Liverpool. The £73 millions of cuts will hit hard at the services such as street cleaning, neighbourhood services and care of our old and young people alike.
All councils have been badly hit by events of the past year with rocketing wage, power and other costs. Liverpool faces a double whammy caused by more than a decade of incompetent leadership.
An immediate problem is that we do not know if this will be enough for two reasons. Firstly, the Chief Finance Officer has warned that the prosed cuts will need to be the subject of detailed work to ensure their deliverability and secondly almost every day new problems within the Council are being unearthed.
More than £150,000,000 was lost, wasted or failed to be collected during Joe Anderson’s era a situation which is perpetuated today by the fact that Liverpool has a dire collection rate for business and personal taxes which must be improved. Of course, we must do our best in difficult times to protect those who cannot pay. However, I suspect that the laxity with which the Council approached both business and personal tax collections led people who could pay not to pay.
Whilst all the attention of the Caller Report, Government statements and the work of the Commissioners has centred on contract poor performance and scandals in the Regeneration Department these are not the big spenders. 70% of the base budget of the Council is spent on adult and children’s social care and not the things like street cleaning, lighting and bin emptying that taxpayers want to see. There is one child with sever behavioural problems that cost the council more than £250,000 a year to look after. Liverpool is by no means alone in this.
Despite clear evidence that the population was ageing, and more children were being taken into care little effort was made to introduce new methods of working to resolve issues inside families before they became critical. Many councils have adopted a family-centric approach to dealing with social care issues. They do much work up stream while problems are small to prevent them become large ones further down the line.
Elderly people, that means people my age, are often ending up in hospital because not enough has been done to keep people healthy. That means that people end up in expensive residential care or hospitals when they do not need to be there and would prefer to be in their own home. Do the right things and we will be able to delay the onset of serious problems for up to five years meaning less cost and better lives.
Young people can drift into the care and criminal systems very early in their life as they suffer from lack of parental control and support. I am chairing a meeting in London next month to get more organisations to support care leavers as they make up a very high proportion of street homeless, drug abusers and petty criminals.
I am particularly saddened about two things. It would appear that the small amount of money that has been given to councillors to provide funding for small local projects will be removed over three years. In Church Ward we use the very small amount of money that we get to provide help, usually in £250-£350 chunks, to the charities, citizens groups and other organisations who do great things for our residents.
The budget documents hide the fact that this year the Council will pay more than £2 million for the Commissioners, consultants and advisers as we make a start on a long journey to becoming a normal council.
There is £906,000 which for this year and the next 18 years will be paid in loan repayments and interest for the over spend and over run on Lime Street.
What has also been concealed from view is the precise effect of the electricity debacle from earlier this year. Has £8 million or £16 million been taken from this year’s reserves to pay for this which will need to be met from next year’s budget. Will schools be reimbursed for this monstrous mistake? These are not distant matters about cash. Schools are warning that this will cost jobs of teachers and classroom assistants at a time when they are still facing post-Covid problems.
Over all of this hangs the spectre of even more reductions in Government grant which may be revealed in today’s autumn statement and which will be made clear in the local government financial statement which should be with the council by mid-December but may be as late as mid-January. Our national body, the Local Government Association, has suggested that to meet the pressures on local government generally a 20% increase in council tax is required.
There are rumours that the current rule that we must hold a referendum if we want to put council tax up by more than 2.9% will be removed. That will not solve Liverpool’s problems. 60% of our residents already live on the margins of poverty. Taxing them more will mean the very poor being taxed to pay for the extremely poor.
That is why I have suggested that our Liverpool City Region leadership should invite Sunak, Gove and Hunt to Liverpool to see for themselves the scale and nature of the problems. Sending them a letter, which we do repeatedly, just will not do the trick. Unless they are prepared to admit that they are abandoning any concept of ‘Levelling Up’ then they need to see for themselves that what they are proposing will be ‘Levelling Down.
The people of Liverpool are caught between a rock of Labour incompetence and the hard place of Tory indifference. It will be the people who will suffer with an appalling reduction the services to meet the basic needs of them, their families, their communities and the city as a whole.
The Labour Party are about to ballot for a new Leader to replace Joanne Anderson from next May. Changing the Labour leadership is not enough. Most of the rumoured contenders were part of the successive Joe Anderson Cabinets which brough Liverpool to its knees.
Liverpool will not benefit from a shuffling around of Labour’s deckchairs. It needs a change in Party control which the Liberal Democrats will be pressing for in the May 2023 all-up elections.