The government should protect our communities, not cut them

(c) nailest

Katy Owen

Today’s report from False Economy that more than 2,000 charities are being forced to close services and sack staff, if alarming, is hardly a surprise for most, not just those involved with the third sector. This represents concrete statistical evidence that the coalition’s programme of cuts is directly affecting the most vulnerable in our communities and suggests that the government puts more weight on instant money-saving and political point-scoring over local authorities than on protecting the services which it should value most.

Of course, the government has blamed local councils for these revelations. This is the predictable narrative: the government slashes local authorities’ budgets while claiming that simple ‘efficiency savings’ would suffice to cope with the reductions; local authorities pass on these cuts to charities and important local services; the government escapes blame for these cuts by saying they were solely the decision of local councils.

There are numerous problems with this narrative. Firstly, the government has proved its statistics rather out-of-balance when it comes to local authority cuts. Ben Goldacre’s analysis of Eric Pickles’s misleading money-saving claims demonstrates this perfectly. The Department for Communities and Local Government claimed that “20% of the £50bn procurement spend could be saved by seeking better value”. Goldacre shows that such a statistic was based on flimsy estimates about mobile phone tariffs by procurement experts Opera Solutions which were then extrapolated with no justification to the entire councils’ budget. This suggests that local authorities have considerably less choice about where to make savings than ministers are claiming.

Even if one continues to argue that local authorities really did have a choice over what to cut, the government either knew exactly what would happen when it made the cuts it did or else it entirely lacks foresight about the consequences of its actions. The first instance would suggest that the government does not sufficiently value the services these charities provide to want to protect them. The second suggests that its incompetency reaches to even higher levels than any of us could have guessed.

The government should have made proper and sufficient measures to ensure that the most vulnerable in our communities – and, incidentally, those with the smallest political voice such as refugees and people with mental health problems – were protected from these cuts. Instead they now sit back and hope to blame councils for any resulting charities’ closures and rather than enforcing strict priorities with regards to budget cuts at every level.

It is those desperately in need of the services these charities provide who will pay the ultimate price for the government’s failure to take heed of the results of its spending cuts or to put sufficient protective measures in place.

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