Sunday, March 06, 2011

Life of Pie

Eric's at it again. This time, he's blaming Labour councils for cutting front-line services for political reasons, rather than cutting back office operations. Just as Pickles and his sidekicks can't really define a 'non-job' (they leave that up to their mates over at the Telegraph and the Taxpayers' Alliance and their dodgy research), they seem to ignore the concept that back office work may actually be vital to keeping the front line working (or that the outcome may be that front line staff end up doing the back office work as well, which will also impact on the quality of service offered). Headline-grabbing soundbites accusing councils of a 'bleeding stump' strategy don't help his already badly fractured relationship with local authorities of all stripes, with even Tory councillors having a barely-concealed contempt for him, but he shows no sign of changing the direction of his strategy of gunboat diplomacy towards councils.

Eric clearly isn't aware of the front-line service cuts coming to Birmingham as a result of decisions taken by a Tory council, aided and abetted by their Liberal Democrat lapdogs. I doubt very much that Adult Services has £118 million worth of cuts that can come from back office functions, especially as 11,000 people will have their provision reviewed and 3500 will certainly lose all support. I find it hard to believe that the already stretched and failing Children's Services team can lose £69 million in support roles, nor that libraries and leisure centres can absorb £9 million without affecting their front-line service provision. And anyone who genuinely believes that is seriously deluded to a point beyond psychiatric provision.

Despite promising localism, the Pieman can't stop interfering in council decisions, in an increasingly desperate attempt to divert blame for the cuts away from his government. This week, he promised that if councils cut too deep into charitable grants, he would legislate within weeks to force councils to reverse agreed budgets. Rather than accept that he had been excessively meek in surrendering to Osborne and Alexander over the cuts that his department could deliver, cuts that he then forced upon local authorities in an unfair way to discriminate against areas with the greatest deprivation, Pickles blames the local authorities for making decisions within the budget that he provided. Either he is talking so much more hot air and this is simply yet more spin or local authorities - virtually all of whom have agreed budgets to start on the 1 April - will be forced to revisit their budgets and redirect their cuts to please the Secretary of State.

As I've noted before, Pickles talks a good game on localism, but when it comes down to accepting the consequences - that locally accountable councillors may make decisions of which Eland House may not approve - he fails. Given that this is likely to be the highwater mark for Conservative and Liberal Democrat local authority control, it is also likely to be the highwater mark of what passes for localism. From here on in, centralism will be the reality, whatever the spin.

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