Exorbitant spending on Overseas Aid hasn’t made us any safer

One of the reasons given by David Cameron for his year on year increases in the Overseas Development budget since 2010 – well beyond that of any other European country – is that it will make our country a safer place, by helping those in foreign countries, improve their lot and become less radicalized by political extremists.  It has in fact, done nothing of the sort and will never do so, as long as we give the extremists reason, in their eyes, to see our country as their enemy and oppressor.

Some might suggest that our history as a colonial power, exploring and exploiting the world over many centuries,  had already done the damage, but I don’t believe that, given that many of our previous colonial conquests, remain members of the Commonwealth.  What has done the real damage and made us especially vulnerable, is our much cherished special relationship with the USA and our willingness to march shoulder to shoulder with them, into recent middle eastern conflicts.

Whilst successive Westminster leaders of all political persuasions, have viewed this relationship as the Holy Grail of international politics, giving the UK much great influence and kudos than it might otherwise have, I see it more as putting a target on the backs of every British citizen living and working in some of the most volatile areas of Africa and the Middle East.

Multiculturalism, a legacy of the Blair years, but again eagerly pursued by virtually all administrations, has opened our doors and left us vulnerable within our own boarders, something the Americans have bent over backwards to eliminate, post September 2001.  Live and let live, when those you are letting live in their own extremist ways – Sharia law is a very good example of this, along with female genital mutilation, is an irresponsible and ultimately dangerous political doctrine to pursue.

The upshot of this government’s single minder pursuit of international glory, often described as, ‘punching above our weight’ – a rather unfortunate term to use when you are supposedly trying to be everybody’s friend – is that an increase in spending in one area, has to be matched by a decrease elsewhere.  This applies even more so, when you are in the middle of a global financial crisis, but still determined to spend, spend, spend!  Which brings me to my point and the reason I have borrowed the article below.

Before anybody starts telling me that, despite all the cuts in local government funding, taxpayers haven’t noticed any reduction in services, I’d like to put that in some context.

Yes, most, if not all the essential services have been maintained to a good standard and residents won’t have seen their bins left un-emptied, streets knee deep in litter, or grass too long see over, let alone walk through.  Council houses are still being allocated and maintained and benefits are still being paid out on time.

However, what is suffering and will be cut even further in years to come, are those things we call discretionary – the things councils do because they believe their residents would like that service to be provided, even though the law doesn’t require it.  Leisure centres, youth clubs, play equipment, sports pitches, libraries, public toilets and maybe even usable, or at least affordable, burial grounds, could all disappear from localities, as cuts in local government funding continue for years to come.  Remember, all this is being done under the banner of deficit reduction, whilst the overseas aid budget continues to grow and grow, year on year.

Copied from Local Government Chronicle – 23 August 2014

Author – Tony Travers, director. Greater London Group, London School of Economics

The government will soon be spending twice as much on international development as councils can on highways

Under cover of mid-summer, the government has published two sets of figures about public expenditure.

The Department for Communities and Local Government revealed local authority revenue spending and income totals for 2014-15, while at the start of this month the Treasury belatedly released the annual Public Expenditure Statistical Analyses volume. Together these publications show how the years of austerity have affected individual services.

Although some parts of central government, notably the Home Office, defence and transport, have seen reductions of 100/o or more in their cash budgets, all the biggest programmes have been protected.  Council spending, by contrast, has been forced down at a remarkable pace.  The UK government will soon be spending twice as much on international development as English councils can afford to spend on highways and transport. Housing, roads, environment and planning have seen their cash expenditure fall by almost 30% in four years. In real terms, the cut is over 40%.

Council productivity increases must be among the greatest ever achieved by the public sector.  Planners appear to be processing as many applications in 2014 as in 2010 with barely half the resources. [What the planners are probably doing, is giving up the fight to maintain standards, given that the NPPF was written by developers, for developers and just passing applications to meet the targets set by Whitehall]. 

The government and opposition have no choice but to find additional money for the NHS: fear of public opinion will open the Treasury’s vaults. Pensions, as the biggest part of social security, are triple-locked into inflationary increases. Schools cannot be denied cash.

By 2020, many council spending programmes will have been halved within a decade.

 

CENTRAL AND LOCAL GOVERNMENT SPENDING CHANGES

  2010-11  £millions 2014-15  £millions Change %
Local government
Housing

2,733

1,945

-28.8

Highways & transport

6,661

4,814

-27.8

Environment, planning, culture

10,959

9,029

-17.6

Social care

20,851

22,090

+5.9

Central government
International development

5,930

7,870

+32.7

Social security

164,512

184,380

+12.8

NHS

97,469 109,650

+12.5

Education

50,387 54,500

+8.2

LGA to go on the offensive – pity that Pickles is off!

Copied from Local Government Chronicle online

The LGA’s chair elect outlines his priorities for the association
David Sparks: End central government’s abuse of power
4 June, 2014 | By David Sparks

It will be with a great sense of responsibility that I take on the chairmanship of the LGA next month. Following four years of councils taking on the biggest cuts in living memory, we have just under a year to go until the general election. What happens in the following 12 months will be crucial to the future of local government, to the services we provide and to the ambitions we have for improving people’s lives.

I believe the LGA has a responsibility to every council to lead the debate, set the agenda and ensure that a clear and compelling case for devolution makes its way on to the pages of every major party’s manifesto. Last year’s Rewiring Public Services began a debate about how to tackle the funding gap. We now need to set out clear actions the next government must take in the form of a convincing offer that is too good to be refused.

Across the country there is a dire need for more new homes. There is a huge challenge to meet in ensuring there are enough places at good schools. Unemployment among young people remains stubbornly high. We in local government know that the answers to these key challenges can be found in a radical devolution of responsibilities and power to local areas.

By the end of this year, both Wales and Scotland – whatever the outcome of the referendum north of the border – will be on the road to receiving greater freedom from Whitehall. The devolution question for the rest of the UK must be answered. English local areas cannot be left behind with their hands tied.

The Council of Europe recently concluded that the ability of local authorities in England to discharge their responsibilities was often highly restricted by central government.

For too long governments on all sides of the political divide have been guilty of an abuse of power
I would go a step further. For too long now governments on all sides of the political divide have been guilty of an abuse of power. National politicians become gripped by the meddlesome urge to interfere in the local matters people elect local politicians to deal with. Westminster should have no business dictating to councils how often they can write to their residents, how to run waste collection services or how we raise and spend money to meet the needs of the people we serve.

As chair of the LGA I will be a staunch advocate for councils and the case for devolution. I will also be a determined champion for local government employees.

This army of unsung heroes have performed brilliantly through incredibly tough times. Faced with the biggest cuts in a generation, they have worked so hard at protecting vital services that people’s satisfaction with their councils has been steadily increasing. We as a sector need to recognise that.

Attacks from central government in the pages of the tabloid press take their toll on morale. We need to work harder to tell the public about the fantastic job the local government workforce is doing. We need to instigate a renaissance of careers in local government being valued and respected vocations that people are proud to do and the public truly appreciate.

One theme underpins all of this. The current model of governing the country is broken, expensive and no longer fit for the 21st century.

The success of my chairmanship of the LGA will be judged on the strength of the case we make to the public, this government, and whoever makes up the next one, that a radical devolution of power and responsibility to local areas is the only sensible answer to the big questions facing Britain today.

David Sparks (Lab), chair elect, LGA

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Local government – something we used to have in the UK?

I am sure we would all agree with Cllr Sir Merrick Cockell, LGA Chairman, when he said last week:

“While this Budget has not brought further cuts for local government, it has not changed the fact that the next two years will be the toughest yet for people who use and rely upon the services which councils provide. The black hole in funding for local bus services, a £10.5 billion backlog in road repairs and continuing uncertainty over funding for much-needed reforms of the adult social care system have yet to be properly addressed.”

By next year, central government funding for councils will have been cut by 40 per cent during this Parliament.
If we are to avoid an upturn in the economy coinciding with a decline in public services, we need nothing less than a fundamental reform of the way the public sector works and an honest reappraisal of how public services are provided and paid for in post-austerity Britain.
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Add to all of this, the recent announcement that the government is looking at centralising children services in England, combined with the push for academy schools, both services currently delivered by county councils, and you could be forgiven for thinking that there’s a hidden ‘European’ agenda in play here.
The last labour government made an abortive attempt to up the game of parish councils, encouraging them to takeover the delivery of services that were being carried by district councils. As well as leading to the demise of two tier government in shire areas, the idea seemed to be about refocusing local people on to the parochial (very local) and away from greater than local issues, thereby strengthening the position of the then emerging regional government bodies.
The current government seems to be hell bent on a similar goal of undermining, or even eliminating local government at the district level and possibly county level, but without anything being put in place between the very local (parish) and national levels.
One can only suggest that the way things are done in many European countries, with village and town councils run by some form of mayor and looking after the basics, a regional government body at the next level and everything else controlled by the national government, is what all our MPs want, no matter what party they represent.

Planning and highways spending slashed

Copied from Local Government Chronicle on line
29 August, 2013 | By Ruth Keeling

Planning and highways have seen the largest reductions in spending, according to the latest local government financial data published on Thursday.

Expenditure on planning services fell by 13.2% between 2011-12 and 2012-13 while spending on highways and transport services fell by 9.5% over the same period.

The cut in spending on services linked to growth, a number one priority for the government, contrasts with much smaller cuts in social care spending and increases in spending on housing benefit costs.

The LGA has previously warned that the combination of growing demand for social care services and significant funding cuts would mean spending in other areas, such as planning and highways, would be squeezed harder and harder.

Social care spending fell by just 0.2%. However that masked a different story for children’s social care, where spending increased by 2.8%, and adult social care, where spending fell by 1.4%.

Other areas of increased spending were housing benefit costs, which increased by almost 5%.

Although education spending fell by 7.7%, government statisticians warned that comparisons should not be made over the two years because the reduction was caused by academies leaving local authority control.

While total revenue expenditure fell by 5% between 2011-12 and 2012-13, the reduction was just 0.2% once changes to education responsibilities and funding were removed from the comparison.

The figures also show that councils increased their reserve levels by £1.7bn, not including a £0.9bn addition to the Greater London Authority’s reserves.

However, there were a quarter of councils which did not add to reserves and ended the year with less in the bank.

Early figures reveal cuts of 16% for some councils

Copied from Local Government Chronicle online
8 August, 2013 | By Ruth Keeling

Councils forced to revamp their savings plans after early sight of their individual funding allocations revealed cuts as high as 16% in 2015-16.

The indicative allocation figures, released last month by the Department for Communities & Local Government, have caused alarm within local government which had expected cuts of around 10%.

Councils suffering the deepest cuts have warned they could now be pushed towards a ‘doom’ scenario where services would have to be closed and vital growth plans ditched.

The extent of the cuts is the result of a series of ‘top slices’ taken from councils’ revenue support grant to fund central government programmes, such as the ‘Dilnot new burdens’ budget announced by the chancellor last month.

The hardest hit councils have been told their funding settlement assessment could fall by 16% in 2015-16. Only two authorities, Wokingham BC and Surrey CC, face cuts of less than 10%.

North Kesteven is among 69 councils facing a 16% cut. Deputy chief executive Alan Thomas said the authority might have to rethink its growth priorities. Its previous £1.75m saving plan will now have to be increased to £2.25m, equivalent to 15% of its £11.5m a year net budget.

Mr Thomas said the Conservative-run council might also review its existing policy of reserving New Homes Bonus payments for infrastructure spending. “I think we are going to have to take a different view of that now and use quite a bit of that New Homes Bonus to support core spending, otherwise we won’t be able to balance the books,” he said.

The authority was already reeling from the “absolutely devastating” government announcement that up to 35% of New Homes Bonus income will be handed to local enterprise partnerships from 2015-16, he added.

Districts and inner London boroughs were the hardest hit group of councils in 2015-16, facing 15% cuts on average. Outer London boroughs, metropolitan districts and unitaries face reductions of 14%; counties will see an average reduction of 13%.

David Huxtable (Con), cabinet member for resources at Somerset CC, which faces a 15% cut, said the reduction matched its most pessimistic plan and would have “a huge impact on services”.

He said: “We will have to stop doing things… We will only be looking after statutory services.”

While the early release of individual figures for 2015-16 has been welcomed, treasurers bodies are due to meet senior civil servants to discuss missing details in the coming months.

Brian Roberts, former president of the Society of County Treasurers and Leicestershire CC director of corporate resources, said: “Having these before the summer recess is very helpful. But there is still a lot of uncertainty.”

Scrutiny is no more than whistling in the wind

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Nearly every other day now, councillors are being told that they are, ‘key to driving forward the innovations needed to transform local government, so that it can weather the current financial storm being visited upon it by Westminster’.
Along with this often junior government minister uttered blurb, which is actually code for we’re passing the buck – they wouldn’t describe it as a ‘financial storm’, but rather, local government doing its bit – comes advice that the scrutiny process is an integral element in any transformation strategy.
It’s somewhat disingenuous to identify scrutiny as the way forward, given the abysmal record it has even when richly resourced and supported, as in the case of the Parliamentary scrutiny system.
Almost every other week we hear and read statements from various Parliamentary committees, with Keith Vaz and Margaret Hodge having a seemingly insatiable appetite for appearing on our TV screens, with the opening words, “The government needs to….”, yet what difference does it make to what the government actually does?
Translate this to the amateur, volunteer ‘scout master’ world of the local government councillor, where officer support is always at a premium and constantly under threat from the slash and burn economics of deficit reduction, and scrutiny looks more like whistling in the wind, than an insightful process, that can beat a path to innovative service delivery.

By way of a footnote, I would point to the recent revelations regarding the Lincolnshire Hospitals Trust. Lincolnshire County Council has a health scrutiny committee, with South Holland District Council represented by an independent councillor, who takes every opportunity to tell us what the committee is, or more accurately, isn’t doing. I say isn’t doing, because, in theory, if LCC’s scrutiny of our local hospitals was in any way effective, Lincolnshire hospitals wouldn’t have one of the highest abnormal death rates in England would it? Unfortunately, they seem to have gotten themselves completely hung up on the proposed changes to our local ambulance service instead.

£2bn cost to British businesses of European red tape

So now we have the evidence, what are our leaders going to actually do about it? Especially the bit about our own civil servants ‘gold plating’, that can be fixed immediately.

By Robert Watts – Sunday Telegraph – 21st July 2013

COMPLYING with European Union regulations is costing Britain billions of pounds a year, the first official audit of the cost of membership is to disclose.
The burden on British businesses will be laid bare in a series of reports which will be published tomorrow by William Hague, the Foreign Secretary.
The audit is made up of six reports – called “Balance of Competences” – which civil servants have spent months preparing.
Senior Conservatives hope the reports will form the bedrock of a renegotiation with Brussels, if David Cameron wins the 2015 general election.
Evidence published alongside the reports will show:
• More than 400 new laws have been passed by the European Parliament since the Coalition was formed three years ago, with legislation costing British business £676 million a year;
• Complying with the EU Agency Workers’ Directive costs British firms as much as £1.5 billion a year;
• Less than half of foreign aid money paid by EU institutions goes to help the world’s poorest people.
The initial documents will look at how the EU affects British taxation, health, overseas aid, foreign policy, animal welfare and food safety.
One of the reports will also provide an overview of how the single market affects British businesses.
A further 26 reports will be published in coming months, in a boost to the Euro-sceptic wing of the Conservatives.
However, Tory Government sources indicated that Lib Dem elements of the Government had “sexed down” some of the more critical evidence of EU waste and bureaucracy.
“These are sober documents that provide evidence and analysis about Britain’s relationship with Europe – they do not set out future Government policy,” said a senior Foreign Office source.

It is understood one of the key themes of the reports will be that civil servants in Whitehall often “goldplate” EU regulations unnecessarily to make such laws more onerous than necessary.

Open Europe, the Euro-sceptic think tank, described the reports as a “useful exercise that will inform the EU debate for years to come”. Stephen Booth, a researcher for Open Europe, added: “Unless this review is complemented by a more political strategy to set out the parameters of a future EU renegotiation to secure more flexible UK membership terms, it will not be sufficient.”
The Prime Minister ordered the series of reports on EU influence in July 2012. The documents focus on how each Whitehall department is influenced by the EU, as part of the Prime Minister’s plan to negotiate a new deal without forcing Britain to leave the EU entirely.
The Government also sent out a wider survey to all 26 member countries asking for their opinions on the balance of power between the EU and national parliaments. However, Mr Cameron’s aims received a setback when France and Germany declined to take part in the exercise.
A senior Lib Dem source confirmed that Nick Clegg, the Deputy Prime Minister, and other fellow party members had been through the Balance of Competences studies. “We have fed into and amended these documents just as we would any government reports,” the source said.
“These documents are not about providing Tory Euro-sceptic headbangers with ammunition to help Britain leave the EU. This is serious, meaty work to assess the pros and cons of what the European Union does for Britain.”
A submission by the British Chambers of Commerce will argue that though its members value the single market, firms often feel stifled by regulations.
“Many of the rules governing the Internal Market are overly complex and expensive to comply with, which has resulted in burdensome and unacceptably high regulation costs for UK business,” it reads.
“The widespread feeling among chamber members is that there have been a number of instances where they were provided with insufficient warning or advice before a new rule was introduced.”
Support for Mr Cameron has rallied on the Tory’s traditionally Euro-sceptic back benches since he set out a new policy on Europe earlier this year.
The Prime Minister said that if the Conservatives won the next general election he would seek to renegotiate Britain’s relationship with Europe. Once the negotiation is complete, Mr Cameron would ask the British public whether it wants to remain part of the EU in an “in-out referendum”, to be held by 2017 at the latest.
So far, the Conservatives are the only party to commit to an EU referendum. However, a private member’s Bill tabled by the Tory backbencher James Wharton aims to introduce legislation that would oblige any party that won the next election to hold such a vote.
In an interview with The Telegraph this weekend Graham Brady, the chairman of the 1922 committee, urged Mr Cameron to set out clearly what he hoped to achieve from a renegotiation with Europe. “We should be driving for a very profound renegotiation with Europe with very little political integration,” he said.