Week 46: Prat – David Cameron

by Jackie_South on November 15, 2015

Con_PratThis week, our Prime Minister richly deserves our regular award for being the biggest prat of the last seven days

This week, it was revealed that in September David Cameron had written to the leader of his Tory-led county council to criticise the cuts that they were making. He called the council’s plans to close children centres “unwelcome and counter-productive” and said he was “disappointed” at proposed “cuts to frontline services, from elderly day centres, to libraries, to museums”.

He went on “I would have hoped that Oxfordshire would instead be following the best practice of Conservative councils from across the country in making back-office savings and protecting the frontline” before claiming that the council’s expenditure had increased from “£341m in 2009/10 to £438m this year” and that the reductions in 2014/15 was a “slight fall”.

Cameron then went on to offer help from the Number 10 policy unit to help identify alternative savings.

The normally loyal Conservative council leader, Ian Hudspeth, was apparently fuming. In his responding letter, he pointed out that the council’s grants from government had actually fallen from £122m in 2011/12 to £62m this year, and had not increased at all. The increases cited by Cameron only come once you consider other responsibilities passed to councils with some funding attached to cover their costs.

His six page missive pointed out that the council had already plenty of back-office savings and that others Cameron had suggested, such as selling buildings to provide running costs, were not actually legal or sustainable. He said that the Prime Minister’s letter also ignored the impact of inflation and wage increases.

Cameron’s schooling by Hudspeth shows how little the Prime Minister understands the impact of the decisions that he is making. He seems to sincerely believe that a council can lose £60m over three years and it will not impact on services, and clearly has little understanding of the legal distinction between councils’ capital and revenue spending. Hudspeth’s six page demolition of Cameron’s letter reads like he is trying to patiently explain to a intellectually backward teenager why things are not as simplistic as the PM believes.

There are two other aspects to this. Cameron’s offer of special access to civil servants in the Policy Unit looks like a breach of the Ministerial Code of Conduct: as local MP he is giving access to his local council to resources he only has as Prime Minister. Unless the same access is open to every other council leader, this could be a misuse of office. Jon Ashworth has written to the Cabinet Secretary to investigate this potential breach.

The other aspect is that all of this demonstrates the scale of damage being done to local government through government cuts. Where Cameron perhaps has a point is that in fact Oxfordshire’s cuts have been modest compared to many other councils in more deprived areas. In 2014/15, the reduction to Oxfordshire’s ‘spending power’ (government’s measure of what a council has available to it to spend) was £20.28 per household. In Hackney, the equivalent statistic was a reduction of £199.50: almost ten times as great. Every Inner London borough bar two (Kensington and Wandsworth) saw a cut of over £100 per household.

The same was true of Barking, Birmingham, Blackburn, Blackpool, Brent, Haringey, Hartlepool, Hull, Knowlsey, Leicester, Liverpool, Manchester, Middlesbrough, Newcastle, Newham, Nottingham, Oldham, Rochdale, Sandwell, Waltham Forest and Wolverhampton. You may have spotted that these are areas that differ from Oxfordshire in two ways: they are a lot poorer and they are Labour-run.

Our Prime Minister has demonstrated just how ignorant he is of the impact of the damaging cuts being made to local government services, and how blase he has been about them. The silver-lining is that he has perhaps drawn some much needed attention to the scale of devastation our government has wrought on our councils.

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