Daily Cuts Briefing – Friday 30th July

30 07 2010

Quick one this morning – just the headlines:

Nick Clegg is changing his mind on an almost daily basis these days. Having previously insisted that he swung behind the Tory deficit hawks after a post-election chat with Mervyn King (which King denies), he claimed last night that he actually changed his mind before the election – but didn’t bother to, y’know, tell the voters – http://bit.ly/aHu9V1

Michael Gove is made to look ridiculous yet again, as the ‘thousands’ of schools supposedly rushing to become academies turns out to be, er, 158 – http://bit.ly/a8j8HP

Council tax rises above a certain level are to be made subject to a veto by voters, according to Eric Pickles – http://bit.ly/c8CVqR

Iain Duncan Smith is to set out options for welfare reform that he says will simplify the current system and reduce benefit cuts for those who enter work – but Labour fear the measures could mean benefit cuts for those still out of work – http://bit.ly/9Yk1fW

And details are emerging of the cuts that will be made to the defence budget – http://bit.ly/dcO56O – while Trident continues to run into cash problems – http://bit.ly/cHSOvW


Speed camera cuts – the Swindon story

29 07 2010

Endangered of Oxfordshire

The last week has seen considerable media speculation over the future of Britain’s speed camera network.

Central government cuts to local authority road safety budgets have led Oxfordshire County Council to pull funding for the Thames Valley Safer Roads Partnership, which operates the county’s speed cameras.

The partnership says it cannot afford to operate the cameras as a consequence, and they are set to be switched off. Other councils are set to follow suit.

Road safety campaigners fear this could lead to an increase on deaths and collisions on the road. While national figures are inconclusive, the Thames Valley Safer Roads Partnership points to a 38 percent drop in vehicle collisions since its cameras were installed.

Swindon Borough Council was the first local authority in the country to pull funding for speed cameras last year – not due to national funding cuts, but because it felt the cameras were unnecessary. The six cameras, located at four sites, were switched off last July.

Statistics collated by Wiltshire Police and supplied by the council indicate there has been no increase in accidents as a result.

Here are the road accident figures for Swindon’s speed camera sites, from August 2008 to April 2009 when the cameras were operating, and then from August 2009 to April 2010 when the cameras were switched off:

2008/09 – 2 slight                                           2009/10 – 2 slight
A4312 Oxford Road
2008/09 – 3 slight                                           2009/10 – 1 serious, 2 slight
A346 Chiseldon
2008/09 – 2 slight                                           2009/10 – 1 serious, 2 slight
A4259 Queens Drive
2008/09 – 1 fatal, 1 serious, 6 slight                 2009/10 – 6 slight

In the above table, ‘serious’ means that at least one person involved in the accident suffered a serious injury.

As can be seen, when the cameras were working there were 13 slight accidents, one serious and one fatal accident across the sites (15 in total), and after they were switched off there were 12 slight accidents and two serious accidents (14 in total).

So, no increase in accidents.

There’s a health warning to these figures, though. First, due to the small number of cameras that were operating, the council believes it will take up to two years before meaningful conclusions can be drawn.

Furthermore, as Inspector Andy Moreton of the Wiltshire & Swindon Safety Camera Partnership (which operated Swindon’s speed cameras until they were turned off) pointed out, the cameras have been switched off, but they haven’t actually been removed. They are covered in orange bags – but the signs and prominent road markings warning of the presence of speed cameras remain, and they are still picked up by most satnav systems.

Inspect Moreton (who was not expressing an opinion on Swindon’s decision to switch off the cameras) added that the cameras were mostly located on primary routes into and out of Swindon – so there’s a good chance many of the road users may not be Swindon locals, and so won’t be familiar with the decision to switch off the cameras.

The cameras will eventually be taken down and removed, and presumably the road markings will go as well. Arguably, only then will we be able to draw reliable conclusions.

But Swindon made its decision based on local data showing that only six percent of road accidents were caused by speeding – essentially, a decision based on local road safety statistics.

By contrast, council bosses are now basing their decisions on government funding cuts. We don’t yet know how likely it is this gamble will pay off. And neither do they.

Daily Cuts Briefing – Thursday 29th July

29 07 2010

As the cull of local government jobs and services continues apace, Birmingham has announced it is to shed 430 posts, in addition to those already lost. The Press Association reports the GMB union’s warnings that the cuts will hit children’s services and Connexions as the council grapples with £6.1m of in-year cuts.

Longer term, Birmingham is looking to save £230m over the next four years. The GMB fears that could translate to 10,000 job cuts.

The King’s Fund healthcare think tank has warned that the government’s moves to hand NHS commissioning budgets to GPs could lead to a decline in funding for public health initiatives such as anti-smoking and anti-drinking campaigns.

Primary care trusts are currently responsible for running public health campaigns, but this power is to be transferred to local authorities, leading the King’s Fund to warn that GP commissioners could stop engaging in public health initiatives.

The Department for Education has reportedly told local authorities to freeze spending on new playgrounds, as it prepares to cut £65m from the Playbuilder budget next month. The cut will apparently mean 1,400 new playgrounds are cancelled nationwide. The Playbuilder grant has already been de-ringfenced, meaning local authorities can use the money how they wish – often meaning they use it to paper over cuts in other areas.

And finally, in a classic example of how some of us are more ‘in it together’ than others, the government has admitted that it spends more than £15m a year to send the children of diplomats and military officers to private schools such as Fettes, Winchester and Marlborough.

The logic – applied both by the current government and its predecessor – is that as these diplomats and officers spend time abroad, it is best for their children to go to boarding school rather than move abroad with their parents. And the perk continues even after the parents return to Britain, because it would not be in the child’s interest to have to change schools midway through their education. It’s about continuity, you see.

Continuity, of course, that is suddenly of no concern to ministers when their housing benefit changes will force families to leave their home and move to a different locality, taking their children with them.

Building an anti-cuts campaign in Lewisham

28 07 2010

Regular readers will be familiar with the carnage set to be wrought upon Lewisham by Labour mayor Steve ‘Butcher’ Bullock.

£60m in spending cuts over four years, widespread job losses, reductions in children’s services, five libraries closing, and much more besides.

Last night saw the start of a local anti-cuts campaign. Initiated by local trade unions, the Lewisham Anti-Cuts Alliance held a meeting to work out how to fight the local attacks.

Some points and observations from the meeting:

  • direct action will be needed, and campaigners may have to break the law in order to defeat the cuts
  • wide agreement of the need to keep building the campaign throughout August, despite the tendency to label it a ‘dead month’
  • support for the PCS union’s call for a national demonstration against the cuts on October 23rd, which the TUC general council is apparently not keen on
  • the campaign must be broad based and non-sectarian
  • various speakers mentioned the need to promote an alternative to the cuts agenda
  • attendance was about 30, mainly trade union activists and members of socialist parties, and there was hostility to the idea of working with Labour politicians
  • despite the presence of different socialist groups, there was no evidence of sectarianism – open debate, but not sectarianism
  • not many young people (even defined as those under 30) were in attendance

After the meeting four of us briefly debated whether it was better to refer to Lewisham’s esteemed mayor as Butcher Bullock, or simply liken his surname to a testicle. I can’t remember what we agreed.

Daily Cuts Briefing – Wednesday 28th July

28 07 2010

Evidence has emerged of the severe impact government funding cuts are having on key youth services targeted at the most vulnerable young people.

An investigation by trade publication Children & Young People Now found that the Connexions service, which provides careers advice and guidance, particularly targeted towards those not in education, employment or training (NEET), was suffering cutbacks around the country after the government cut area based grants that help fund it.

A survey conducted by the magazine found that more than one in ten Connexions services face budget cuts of up to 50 percent, with one in seven warning they faced budget cuts of at least £2m. High street Connexions centres and guidance in schools are seen as being at particular risk.

Regular readers of A Thousand Cuts will be familiar with the procession of cuts to Connexions services across the country:

And now it emerges that the ‘Big Society’ council of Windsor and Maidenhead is planning to cut its Connexions budget by £375,000.

More background on the TUC’s Touchstone blog, and a Facebook group campaigning to defend the Connexions service.

Meanwhile, there was a (rare) flurry of interest at the House of Commons’ Education Select Committee as the head of the agency set up to oversee the national schoolbuilding programme said that Michael Gove’s team ignored warnings to check the list of affected schemes before it was published.

Education Secretary Gove infamously had to publish five different versions of the list, showing how school redevelopment projects were affected by his decision to cancel the Building Schools for the Future (BSF) programme, after initial versions were riddled with errors.

Gove tried to put the blame on Partnerships for Schools (PfS), the quango that runs the BSF programme, but PfS chief executive Tim Byles told MPs yesterday: “We advised the Department that it would be wise to validate this information with each local authority, prior to publication, due to the inherent risk of errors. This advice was not followed and a number of errors arose.”

Byles accepted the blame for one error – where schools in Sandwell were wrongly told their schemes would go ahead – but warned that a number of local authorities and construction firms are preparing to sue the government over losses incurred by the decision to axe BSF.

Finally, a think tank has recommended scaling back renewal of Britain’s nuclear deterrent in order to reduce costs.

The Royal United Services Institute – which generally takes a pro-military stance – said that in renewing Trident, the government should consider dropping the requirement to always have a nuclear sub on patrol at sea.

Trident renewal – viewed by critics as an expensive Cold War anachronism – is currently facing budget pressures as the Ministry of Defence faces potential 10-20 percent budget cuts.

The Tory council making vulnerable people pay for the coalition’s cuts

28 07 2010

Adult care is a highly pressured area of local government spending at the best of times, with councils racking up overspends even as public spending grew. Now this unfashionable area of public spending is increasingly taking a hit.

Adult care services look after the most vulnerable adults in our society – the disabled, the elderly, those with learning difficulties, mental health problems, or drug and alcohol addiction.

So take a bow, London Borough of Havering. With its Conservative-run council trying to save £19m over the next three years – and possibly £50m over five years – adult care users are being told to chip in.

Council bosses reckon that they can save up to £850k a year by raising charges for non-residential care. The 60 percent of service users who currently don’t pay for care due to their low income still won’t pay under the new plans – but the remainder will have their charges hiked, increasing the total amount contributed by service users by around a half.

The increased charges were approved at a recent council cabinet meeting (item 8 here) and will now go out to consultation. They include:

  • scrapping the subsidy of Meals on Wheels and charging meals at cost price (unless care related)
  • means testing for day care charges – the council predicts that 26 percent of service users will see their costs rise from £1.34 to £26 per session, while another 14 percent will see their costs rise from £1.34 to £40 per session, nearly halving the council subsidy
  • raising the maximum amount that 23 service users pay towards their cost of care from the current cap of £230 per week to a new cap of £320 per week
  • ending payment of 26 service users’ telephone line rental, costing each of them around £180 a year
  • capping the maximum disability related expenses covered by the council to £71.40 per person per week, affecting around 300 service users
  • remove the allowance for privately purchased respite care and day care services (those deemed necessary in social workers’ assessments will still be paid for by the council)
  • remove the allowance for personal care (assistance provided by a carer such as getting out of bed, washing, making meals etc) unless required as part of the care plan

Allowances for certain disability related expenses – special dietary needs, hairdressing, clothing – are going up slightly, but the overall effect is that service users who have more money despite their difficulties will have to fork out up to £4,600 extra each year.

And that’s not all – Havering plans to save an additional £1.25m from its adult social care budget through a ‘further review of adult social care services to ensure services are fair, personalised, appropriate and delivered in the most cost effective manner’. Time will tell whether or not that’s a cover for cuts.

A Havering council spokesman said: “We are proposing changes to our fairer charging policy to help offset the costs of services the council is not legally obliged to provide, but realises the importance of and is determined to keep going.

“Where charges are changed, we will ensure nobody pays more unless they can afford to.”

The increased charges will go towards the council’s plans to cut £19m in spending over the next three years. In the words of the council’s press release, most of the rest of the £19m in savings will be achieved through efficiency savings and new technology:

  • £3.5 million per year by transforming internal bureaucracy – centralising support functions and introducing new technology to replace paperwork
  • £2.7 million per year by transforming customer services, including new technology to standardise customer contact, improve self-service and help deal with more queries at the first contact
  • Around £4 million per year through better targeted and more efficient adult social care arrangements (from a current budget of £51 million)
  • £1 million per year reduction in government-funded support to schools
  • £850,000 per year through reviewing and rationalising the use of council buildings
  • £585,000 through better targeted and more responsive street cleansing and a review of waste contracts

But dig into the detail of the actual council budget reports (item 5), and it’s clear that it’s the most vulnerable who will be footing the bill.

Aside from adult care, children’s services are taking a hit from the cuts to area based grants – a 25 percent cut in the council’s Children’s Fund, and another 25 percent cut in funding for the Connexions service, which supports young people with career and education guidance, in particular those not in education, employment or training (NEET).

The three-year cuts programme also includes reductions to school transport, while youth services – information, advice and guidance, counselling services, Connexions and a teenage pregnancy service – will move from universal to targeted provision.

Other funding pots in Havering facing significant in-year cuts include start-up costs for extended schools (which run programmes for school children before and after the regular school day), and positive activities for young people, which funds summer holiday activities around the borough.

Of course, if any of those ‘transformation’ and technology savings fail to materialise as planned, expect more frontline services to be cut to make up the shortfall.

And just to top it all off, 100 jobs are expected to go.

Council leader Michael White insists that the cuts are necessary due to the coming reduction in government grants. “This means targeting limited resources where they are needed most, helping people to help themselves and supporting those who cannot help themselves.”

But schoolchildren, NEETs, the elderly, disabled and mentally ill would fall within most people’s definition of where resources are needed most.

The correct word is not ‘transformation’, Havering. The correct word is ‘decimation’.

Daily Cuts Briefing – Tuesday 27th July

27 07 2010

The National Housing Federation today warned that more than half a million people could be added to housing waiting lists if government budget cuts go ahead.

The campaign group, which represents not-for-profit housing associations, said that if affordable housing budgets were cut by 40 percent – the figure flagged recently by ministers – then 570,000 people would be added to waiting lists for affordable homes.

Waiting lists already stand at a record 4.5m, with one million children living in overcrowded homes. Housebuilding fell to a post-war record low last year.

The federation added that 40 percent budget cuts would mean 280,000 construction industry jobs would either be lost or not created by 2020.

Elsewhere, Home Secretary Theresa May announced plans to increase the number of voluntary police officers from 15,000 to 67,000, in a move seen as designed to compensate to cuts in full-time police officers. No word yet on how the recruitment process will be funded.

Tony Hayward is quitting as chief executive of stricken oil giant BP with a £1m payoff and £10m pension pot, despite the company posting a huge $17bn loss and seeing its reputation hit an all-time low over the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

The huge payoff makes a mockery of the government’s obsession with ‘gold plated’ public sector pensions – which on an individual basis are microscopic by comparison – and also rubbishes the notion that the private sector is a paragon of meritocratic efficiency, with large salaries for the best people.

If the best people are like Tony Hayward, what are the worst people like?

Finally, the bonfire of the quangos goes on, with various health and cultural bodies axed, including the Film Council.