Monday, November 23, 2015

the autumn statement: let’s all get depressed together…

There are at least THREE certainties regarding George Osborne’s Autumn Statement on Wednesday: a) it’ll be delivered with a confident smugness (to “loud encouragement” from his fellow Tory MPs); b) it’ll be clever and will see him producing one or two “rabbits out of the hat”; and c) it’ll be well-received by the predominantly Tory media.
Osborne is continuing on his “austerity is a necessity” crusade and has pledged to run a £10billion budget surplus by 2020. Local government (including welfare and social services), further education, the police, courts are all facing spending cuts of up to 30 per cent (and this comes on top of previous reductions) and, despite the government’s pledge to “protect the NHS”, there could also be cuts in some areas of public health spending.
The fact remains that, with the government’s comfortable majority in parliament, Mr Osborne can do whatever he likes.  

As Will Hutton outlined in The Guardian last week:
“The Conservatives’ choice is driven by a refusal to see any merit in public activity: in their worldview, the point of life and the purpose of civilisation is to celebrate and protect the private individual, the private firm and private property. The state should be as small as possible. It has no role, say, in owning Channel 4 to secure public service broadcasting; it will be privatised with scant care about its ultimate owner. Equally, there was no point in holding the 40% stake in Eurostar, forecast to generate more than £700m in dividends over the next decade and a good payback for £3bn of public investment. Thus it was sold for £757m in March, the government concerned to get the sale through before the general election. You could only proclaim a £2.25bn loss on the public balance sheet and the surrender of £700m of dividends as a “fantastic deal for UK taxpayers”, as Osborne did, if you see zero value in public activity.
“It is this philosophy that will drive the choices to be laid out on Wednesday. The spending of the so-called protected departments – the £189bn spent this year on the NHS, schools for five- to 16-year-olds, aid and defence – will rise in cash terms in line with inflation, but only to buy the same in 2019-20 as it does today, an unprecedented decade-long freeze in real terms. The block grants to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will be hit slightly harder, protected only in cash terms, implying, after adjusting for inflation, a small real fall. The axe therefore has to fall on what is left – £77bn of spending by 15 departments along with non-school spending”.

The sad fact is that Osborne is hell-bent on reducing public spending to just over 36% of GDP in the last year of this parliament (without raising income tax)(or scrapping Trident!). This will inevitably result in too few nurses on a ward, too few police, too few teachers and too little of every public service. The cuts in welfare will hit the well-being of millions, including their children.
Osborne doesn't care about the consequences.
It’s all about political ideology.

One could highlight worrying issues in ALL those sectors facing further cuts but, just as one example, let’s look at the police service:
1.    If the predicted cuts of 30% do form part of the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement, then this would mean that funding for the police service will have been slashed by some 50 per cent between 2010 and 2020!).
2.    An estimated 17,000 officer posts were eliminated in the last round of cuts under the Conservative-led coalition government between 2010 and 2015 – and this level of officer losses could be higher at 30,000 in the next five years across the 43 police forces in England and Wales.
3.    Cuts will almost certainly mean a severe pruning back of neighbourhood policing and proactive prevention work which stops crime levels rising.
4.    It’s even been suggested (by Sara Thornton, chair of the body representing police chiefs) that a police officer may not attend every burglary in future – resulting in burglary victims even being asked to send evidence by email!
5.    I have a good friend who works in the police force and who is extremely concerned by the latest proposals. He is adamant that the on-going and disproportionately savage cuts to the police/council/criminal justice budgets will make it IMPOSSIBLE to be effective across the board.
6.    Only last month, Devon and Cornwall confirmed plans for reducing its number of PCSOs to ZERO. Many forces are stating Neighbourhood Policing is now a thing of the past. Pro-activity has almost disappeared.
7.    Studies show the majority of the public have no conception as to the true extent and effect of these budget cuts.
8.    Indeed, we’ve had a number of burglaries in our local neighbourhood over recent months. I haven’t got the figures, but I would be prepared to speculate that the number of burglaries has started to rise again. It’s almost as if “minor” criminals know full well that the police just don’t have the resources to cope – which therefore increases their chances of “getting away with it”. Continuing cuts will mean fewer officers and a pruning back of both neighbourhood policing and pro-active prevention work - which stops crime levels rising.

I COULD go on (and on!) about a whole host of other things that are likely to be adversely affected by the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement – all hugely important and all hugely depressing.
But, hey, what’s the point?
The Government isn’t listening (and the Opposition are arguing amongst themselves)… we might as well all give up.

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