Thursday, 21 August 2014

Camden's cuts challenge - post 4 - poll discussion: who is to blame for the cuts?

Yesterday I wrote for Progress on cuts and the need for more decentralisation of powers from Whitehall.  Those in Labour local government who have been working hard throughout the summer on next year's budgets know that this round of cuts promises to be more punishing than the last - because most of the early efficiencies have already been taken and there is much more pressure on services.

Urban and deprived areas have been hit the hardest, due to changes in government funding formula, meaning that these areas will see more reductions or substantial changes in services like local libraries, street cleaning, homelessness, apprenticeship schemes and youth work. 
There will also be significant job losses.  
‘Salami-slicing’ funding from services hoping they will survive won’t work - it’s more likely that where services don’t change, they could close.
What do the public think? A YouGov poll released today asked people about who they thought responsible for the continuing cuts.  The results are not as clear cut as you might think - 
  • 40% think "Central government is mainly responsible, because it is cutting sharply the money it gives to the council where I live
  • 26% think "My local council is mainly responsible, because it could achieve most of the savings it needs by cutting costs, without cutting services"
  • The remainder are not aware of cuts/don't know.
Labour and Lib Dem voters in 2010 are more likely to blame central government, much Tories less so.  There's also a gender gap and a slight difference in awareness between London and other regions.

Locally here in Camden this poses an interesting dilemma for the retreating Lib Dems - their attack on council cuts, evident in the run-up to the election is out-of-step with people who vote for them.  For the Camden Conservatives, it's more straightforward - the people who vote for them are more likely to think that it's all the fault of the Town Hall (interestingly more Tory voters also feel that they haven't experienced any cuts).    
The poll underlines what some have suspected: outside of the SW1 bubble, in a different economic context and with 'round one' of the cuts over, don't assume people will see responsibility for austerity as intensely as they did in 2010 - or even that awareness is that high.
Next to the economy and the NHS, funding for local public services threatens to become part of the dominant narrative of the 2015 election for Labour.  There is, of course, an inter-play between all three: simply put, extra money for the NHS means less money for other areas of spending, like local government.   ‘Turning the taps back on’, as some argue on the left, raises a question about management of public finances which is central to that of economy competence.  (Note that the high point of spending for local services was in 2008, seven years from the 2015 ballot).
With over 70% of funding for local services reliant on central government, and that funding being cut dramatically - it's not just Town Halls who have a job to explaining how local public services are funded, Westminster politicians will.

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