“Austerity is over” proclaimed the Prime Minister at Conservative Party Conference earlier this month.
As I write this article, I’m heading down to Parliament for the Budget, so time will tell whether this Government is really committed to ending their damaging policies that have hurt so many people here in Tameside.
So what will I be looking for? If austerity is over, will we see an end to local government cuts? Since 2010, over £16bn has been removed from central government funding to our local councils – Tameside Council alone will have lost around £200m of funding.
These figures are often meaningless because they’re so big…but what it actually means is we’ve lost our SureStart Children’s Centres, we’ve seen library closures, our streets aren’t being repaired as they should be and our parks aren’t as well maintained as they once were. Putting it simply, our local public services are at breaking point.
It’s a testament to Tameside Council that, unlike a number of Tory-run County Councils, they’ve so far avoided the financial cliff edge; but all councils are edging closer towards it. Worse, there’s another £1.3bn cut to local government funding already hardwired into next year’s funding. Will that be reversed? I doubt it.
Then there’s policing where we’ve lost 21,000 police officers across England. But here in Greater Manchester, we’ve lost 2,000 officers and 1,000 police staff. That’s unsustainable and is affecting how safe our communities feel. The end result? Crime, and the fear of crime is rising.
Over 400 people packed into Dukinfield Town Hall the other week to demand action to stop a spike in crime there. The police are doing what they can, but the Chief Constable is now saying that GMP will fall to its lowest officer numbers since 1975 if the cuts continue. Just unthinkable.
I could go on, about social care, the NHS, social security, schools – in fact everything the state does, but you get the picture.
Austerity was a political choice by a Government that ideologically believes in a smaller state. It’s a political choice that’s failed. But has it really ended? I doubt it. Yes there’ll be a scattering of crumbs here and there, and a few sticking plasters; but unless there’s a real uplift in funding to stop the rot, our public services will still collapse and it’s communities like ours here in Tameside that will continue to suffer.