Friday, 11 June 2010

The public cost of cuts

A letter from John Sharman, branch sec at Lincs County branch to his local paper.


I read with dismay the article in today's Echo about announced reductions to Council budgets ("Authorities are 'ready to play part" in £4 cuts"). Lincolnshire County Council alone has been told it will receive £4,200,000 less from the government this financial year.


And of course this is only the start. Pronouncements from the coalition government indicate that there will be massive cuts in public spending over the next few years. Not just local councils, but other public services, many of whom are already being squeezed, will be squeezed further and further. This week one national personnel body – hardly a home of left-wing agitation – predicted that 750,000 public service jobs will be lost over the next five years.


These savage public sector cuts will have a devastating effect on local economies. For example, Lincolnshire County Council spends the majority of its budget on purchasing, so as that spend reduces so does the income of its contractors. Allied to that, it is the county's largest employer, so a shrinking workforce means less personal spending on local goods and services. And so the vicious circle goes on, taking us back into the recession from which we are said to be emerging.


The people who will pay the highest price for public spending cuts are the public themselves. It beggars belief that government ministers can talk of spending cuts of 20% and yet say that they will protect "front line" services. Firstly, with cuts of that magnitude, such a proposition is self-evidently impossible. Secondly, it is a false assumption that "front line" services are somehow separate from the rest of an organization.


I'm no expert in military matters, but even to me it is obvious that an army (and the term front line is a military metaphor) is dependent for its fighting capacity on its support systems. Soldiers in a war cannot survive without transport, ammunition supplies, catering, medical back-up, and so on. The situation is no different for those caring for the elderly, educating children, keeping the highways safe – and all the other services that local councils provide.


There is no way in which members of the public will not be hit hard by public spending cuts. Services that today we take for granted as part of the fabric of our society will disappear.


And let's remember where all this started: with the greed of the global finance industry. I cannot believe it is right that the price for bankers' mistakes should be paid by public servants. Pay in local government starts at £6.31 an hour (frozen this year, and it would seem for some time to come), hardly a comparison with city bonuses. Nor do I believe that price should be paid by the people of Lincolnshire being deprived of the services they deserve.


John Sharman

Lincolnshire County UNISON Branch Secretary

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