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Devon County’s Council tax to rise by almost five per cent as services are slashed

Friday, 17 February 2017 1 Comment by Claire

Devon’s council tax will rise by 4.99 per cent from April, following yesterday’s budget meeting.

More services and backroom functions are being cut, including road maintenance, community composting payments, as well as funding for vulnerable children and adults services - see here for more - http://www.claire-wright.org/index.php/post/fewer_devon_people_to_receive_social_care_as_23m_is_slashed_from_budgets

Government ministers, who have forced councils, and as a consequence, citizens (mainly vulnerable ones and those on low incomes) across the country into austerity have this year allowed councils to increase tax to higher levels, to offset in a very small way the massive cuts they have made to council budgets.

This year the government has slashed £23m from Devon County Council’s budgets - a 15 per cent cut in the seventh year of austerity.

According to the scrutiny budget papers of 30 January, fewer people will be eligible for social care, due to budgetary pressures. Page 88 states:  “This (budget) requires an overall reduction in the number of clients to achieve budget levels.”

It goes on to state on page 89: “The scale of change is likely to severely test the capacity of managers at different levels, especially where pressures of essential work cannot be reprioritised without risk to those who receive services.”

Over half of Devon County Council’s budget has now been cut since 2010.  More than £267 million over the last seven years.

The council tax rise will cost the average Band D council taxpayer £1.16 a week extra. Devon County Council leader, John Hart said in a press release:  “I believe we are justified in asking for that to help protect and support some of the most vulnerable people in society.”

Of course, he really has no choice with the crisis in social care in Devon. This year’s social care budget was around £5m overspent due to increasing costs of care and massive government budget cuts.

While £1.16 a week extra might be shrugged off by people who are comfortably off. Others on a tight budget, those who are struggling to pay debts and bills, will regard it as yet another burden..

Yesterday both the libdems and the labour groups amended the budget with their own versions. The conservative majority voted through their budget, with the labour, libdems and independents voting against.

The government claims it can’t afford to look after its sick, its vulnerable and its elderly, so it encourages councils to increase council tax instead so pushing a double burden onto residents.

Charging the taxpayer ever increasing sums of money for poorer and fewer services. Not only do residents have to pay more but they have to undertake more care themselves.

And of course, this isn’t the only council tax rise that people will have to swallow. The likelihood is that district councils will hike their tax, Devon and Cornwall Police has already announced it is increasing its council tax and the fire authority will also surely, like they did last year.

That’s a massive year on year increase in council tax, for fewer and poorer services. Each year as the cost to taxpayers rise, the services get sparser and poorer.

According to a report out this week almost a third of the population of Britain is living on an ‘inadequate’ income. More people than ever are using foodbanks and homelessness has rocketed since the beginning of austerity.

How do ministers sleep at night knowing that it is their policies, their ideology, their own selfish version of how they believe a society should operate, that are causing this awful hardship?  And we are the fifth or sixth largest economy in the world.

Hugo Swire MP has expressed concern about social care funding and the closure of hospital beds last autumn.

But if Hugo Swire was REALLY concerned and REALLY serious about these issues, he would vote AGAINST the council budget cuts in the House of Commons next Wednesday afternoon (23 February). 

I wrote to him earlier this month - see http://www.claire-wright.org/index.php/post/hugo_swire_urged_to_speak_and_vote_against_local_government_settlement

But so far, each year he, along with his conservative colleagues have quietly voted in favour, hoping no one will notice.

Once again this year, I will notice. And I will sure everyone notices - how he and his colleagues vote.

Because this vote surely goes to the heart of whether Mr Swire really cares about his constituents or is little more than a party yes man. 

We will see.

Here’s the webcast of yesterday’s budget meeting - https://devoncc.public-i.tv/core/portal/webcast_interactive/244712

And here’s my budget speech .......... .............................................

DCC budget speech 2017

Another budget, another crippling year of austerity.  This time £23m will disappear.

It’s the seventh year of austerity. This council’s budget has now been cut by more than half since 2010. 

This time it looks as though the main victims will be those Devon residents who need social care, with fewer people being eligible to receive that care. 

And by this council’s own admission this will create RISK to those who are no longer provided for.

At the same time there is a widespread plan to massively reduce community hospital beds across Devon. We can only speculate as to what chaos this will cause in our social care system.

Over the last few years we have seen day centres and virtually all DCC owned care homes closed.

We’re repeatedly told health and social care integration is the panacea to solving the current crisis.  Of course this will help, but ministers’ persistent denial that it is THEIR OWN ACTIONS that cause this mess is disingenuous. Actually, it is an outrageous lie.

Given that short-sighted Conservative ministers don’t appear to value the welfare state or recognise the basic premise that the public sector including the NHS, are PART of the economy, what DO they value?

- They value a £7bn third runway at Heathrow
- They value corporate tax breaks for big business and high earners, costing £2bn
- They value allowing big business to get away without paying their fair share of UK tax –the five biggest offenders alone costing £1bn
- They value building a new rail-link at a cost of £50bn
- They value a new road building scheme – costing around £1bn
- £61bn

Oh and the fund for integration - The Better Care Fund is NOT NEW MONEY!

Stuart Barker states in his joint letter to central government last September that councils in the south west are not very confident or not confident at all that there is sufficient money in the budget to fund social care beyond 2016/17.

Council tax will rise again this year to help mitigate the massive cuts but the extra income will barely scratch the surface.

And Devon residents will once again be paying more tax for fewer services.

But a smug government minister decided to blame US last week. Yes he said that people should care for their own elderly relatives. As though this isn’t happening already!  But where it isn’t happening perhaps the minister might consider why not.

Perhaps it’s that families are living a long way from each other, perhaps it is that many people are working all the hours they can to pay their growing bills. And just perhaps MANY are volunteering in his BIG SOCIETY to help keep their villages and towns actually functioning.

Hugo Swire MP said in one of his recent blogs that COUNCILS are cutting funding for social care!  Mr Swire who votes for government cuts to councils EVERY YEAR is clearly an expert in the art of disassociation.

Today Age Concern announced that some frail elderly people who can’t wash, dress or feed themselves are being left to fend for themselves by councils.

We have asked our MPs for the third time to speak and vote against the cuts to councils in parliament. Yet the vast majority of MPs ignore this request every year.

Voting in favour of council cuts is voting in favour of hardship to our residents. I will be naming and shaming every single Devon MP, who votes for more hardship to the residents of Devon.

Photograph:  Addressing the council yesterday.

Comments

1. At 01:50 pm on 20th Feb Chris Wakefield wrote:

Hugo’s track record in supporting public services in his constituency would be charitably described as patchy although his recent discovery that one can tilt against the Party line and live to tell the tale may have stiffened his spine for further efforts. After all, he is no longer favoured in Government circles and it would be perhaps the best time to show his mettle as a committed constituency MP, rather than, as previously, a much-preoccupied Westminster placeman.

The political elite in Devon, which for the last two decades at least has been dominated by the Tories, has overseen a spectacular slide to the bottom end of the national league in per capita funding for health and education in particular, and crippling reductions in County Council services in general. Much of this decline was organised and planned since the crash by increasingly paranoid centralising governments addicted to a failed economic strategy. Although there may have been some sympathy within DCC for efficiency savings that started in the the 1980s, those days are long past and to lay any of the blame for today’s faltering public services entirely at the County Council’s door is simply to sing along with the old refrain that a lie told often enough becomes the truth. And we’ve seen plenty of that of late.

Given the state of the public sector in Devon, a vote against a rotten deal on 23rd Feb is the only rational response. If our MP votes in favour of further cuts, he will need to explain his decision very carefully to his constituents and assume responsibility for the outcomes.

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