Budget is a missed opportunity

Tim Styles has described this year’s budget as a missed opportunity for local people, with nothing to tackle the massive funding crisis facing local police services, or anything of substance to address the gaping holes in our social care and school budgets.

Local Government next year will face £1.3 billion pounds worth of planned cuts to services, cuts that will bite even harder than they have to date. The Chancellor talked a lot about councils gaining ‘greater control’ over finances by allowing them to retain business rates and by lifting the housing cap, but the revenue support grant that Cornwall Council relies is being phased out by 2020. These additional “powers” or “flexibilities” will not bridge the gap. For us in mid Cornwall, austerity does not seem to be coming to an end anytime soon – in fact it just took a turn for the worse.

Take the funding announced for social care, this is classic smoke and mirrors from the Conservatives. While £650 million for social care sounds a lot, this includes £240 million already announced for reducing winter pressures. Adult and Children’s social care faces a funding gap of £2.6 billion in the next financial year, so the £410 million extra isn’t enough to fill this. For example, the increases in the Budget for the National Living Wage for care staff, while very much deserved, need to be paid for.

In other words, this is about a third of what councils need just to keep services going at their current rate. And the government continue to cut public health funding so preventative schemes such as advice on giving up smoking or getting more exercise face further funding pressure, meaning more people will end up needing hospital care.

The additional funding for Education was derisory. School budgets are being stretched to limit but the money the Chancellor tossed them in the budget isn’t enough for an extra teacher each and is less than he’s allocated to potholes!

The Tories have also failed to harness public opinion on single use plastics. The time is ripe for meaningful policy change to keep our environment safe and reverse climate change but the Chancellor can’t even follow through with a levy on plastic cups. There is no way we can recycle our way out of the Plastic Crisis and this budget does nothing to lessen the burden on the Council who are lumbered with collecting and disposing of millions of single use plastic items each year, meaning the tax payer is left to foot the bill. It proves the Tories are full of hot air and no credible action.

Finally, one couldn’t have missed the furore over the delay to lower the maximum stake in Fixed Odds Betting Terminals from £100 to £2. The harm and anti-social behaviour FOBTs can cause has become an issue of growing national concern, while research has shown that problem gambling, often linked to FOBTs, creates huge costs for the NHS, councils and the criminal justice system. The Government made the right decision to impose a £2 stake limit but taking another year before implementing it only compounds the social and economic problems we know FOBTs cause.

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