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

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.”

A damning inditement of how our Government plans for our future?

Copied from a political analysis piece in today’s Sunday Telegraph by Iain Martin


What does the Government want to do with the money from shale?

The Treasury wants to get its hands on the tax revenues that shale might generate. An alternative approach would involve establishing a national fund to invest the proceeds. The UK government spent our share of the North Sea oil boom in the 1970s and 1980s on day-to-day expenditure, whereas the Norwegians established a sovereign wealth fund, into which oil revenues would flow. The fund is now bigger than the Norwegian economy and is on track to be worth £1 trillion. Within limits, a portion can be spent each year by the government. In the UK, such a sensible idea seems to stand little chance of getting past the Treasury, unless the Prime Minister can be persuaded that such a fund would stand as a legacy of his time in office.

Should fracking ever become a reality in this country, is there the slightest possibility that our current leaders will think beyond their own electoral success and actually do something to benefit future generations? Given that the late Margaret Thatcher didn’t follow the Norwegian example, I’m not holding my breath.

Local government has another 10% to find – for starters

I’ve borrowed this from the article published in today’s Sunday Telegraph – thank you ST. The further 10% cut in funding to local government, has been on the cards almost since the last cuts were announced, so that’s not the interesting bit.

What is interesting, is the Telegraph’s assessment that this is a defeat, I assume for the DCLG and Eric Pickles, as that couldn’t be further from the truth, given Mr Pickles constant eagerness to please his bosses. Let’s not forget, he was the first minister to settle, if that’s the right word for it. It’s more likely that Pickles was actually waiting outside the front door of the Treasury on the first day of this spending cuts round. He was probably like one of those over excited shoppers on the first day of the January sales, but in reverse. Instead of grabbing the bargains, as he burst through the doors, he leapt in, gleefully spreading local government grant funding around like confetti.

Dept of Communities and Local Government – Budget £25.92bn – Minister Eric Pickles

Battlegrounds Local authority budgets will bear the brunt of savings. The Local Government Association warns that children’s centres, museums, roads and bus fares will suffer cuts in the range of 10 per cent to the money local authorities get from Whitehall. Louise Casey, head of the Troubled Families Unit, is said to be behind moves to “take over” billions of pounds of spending from other departments.

Outcome – No deal yet. – Verdict Defeat

Sunday opening, fool’s gold?

Sometimes I feel like a second rate Nostradamus, when something I was whinging about weeks or months previously, actually comes to pass. Having accused George Osborne of being a closet Yank, because of his willingness to see a planning free for all used to drive his growth agenda, we now see that he is proposing to relax the Sunday Trading Laws for a trial period. Don’t be surprised to see the trial continue without a break, as all George’s mates in the retailing industry, continue to shamelessly lobby him, for it to become the norm.

As well as regretting this further erosion of what supposedly makes Sunday different from every other day of the week, I would question what the rationale for this change is. Apart from transferring more money from the pockets of hard pressed working people into the bulging bank balances of shareholders, how will this change help the recovery, or offer real growth?

We, the British public are constantly being berated by our politicians for having too much personal debt and told to reduce our reliance on credit to feed our naked consumerism. Yet George Osborne is about to propose something that can only make that debt grow further, as a bored public, credit cards in hand, now spend their Sundays wandering the aisles of department stores stores full of tempting imported consumer goods.

Also, how is increasing retail spending supposed to improve the national debt situation overall? With most of the goods purchased coming from foreign imports and not from home grown manufacturers, how does that help the dire financial situation we currently find ourselves in? No doubt the increase in VAT taken, combined with the increase in tax businesses will have to pay on their takings, will make the Government’s balance sheet look slightly better. However, given that there is every chance that this will be at least equalled by an increase in personal debt, isn’t this just fool’s gold?

Another piece of directed localism

More directed localism from government today, with George Osborne announcing a freeze on council tax. Last time I looked, it was individual councils, via it’s elected members, that decided whether or not their council tax should rise, fall or remain the same, not the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

Of course central government has the power to cap councils that it feels are planning to levy an excessive increase in their council tax rate. However, it now seems that the Chancellor has decided that he knows exactly what every council in the country needs to keep providing services to it’s local taxpayers, even before those councils have started their budget setting deliberations for the next civic year.

Of course, any relief in the ever increasing rise in household bills is to be welcomed and any council that decided to increase it’s council tax levels after the Chancellor’s announcement, would be either very confident of it’s political support amongst it’s taxpayers, very foolish, or desperate. However, that’s not the point. This government has banged on and on about getting rid of ‘big government’ and giving power back to local people. Yet, in an opportunistic piece of political posturing at the party conference, George Osborne is now going to tell local councils that it is not their role to make this decision on behalf of their local taxpayers. So much for localism.

Time for Osborne to do his bit

I’ve been following, with growing alarm, the government’s proposals to overhaul the planning system and to effectively scrap the legislation that underpins it. My alarm comes from what could be seen as a simplistic, or even nieve, approach to the planning system by this government. Alternatively the more paranoid amongst us could see these changes as no more than a form of cronyism, designed to swell the bank accounts of landowners and developers, many of whom are more likely to be Tory supporters than not.

However, there may also be an additional reason why the government has decided to open the development flood gates. Recent newspaper headlines seem to suggest that government has given up trying to get the Treasury to ease its stranglehold on the economy and have now decided that dismantling the planning system is an easier option, using the drive for growth as the reason (excuse?).

Apparently David Cameron is having trouble persuading George Osborne that he needs to do his bit to encourage growth, through easing the tax burden on businesses. As the Chancellor of Exchequer appears to have more clout than any other minister, including the Prime Minister, it seems that the planning system is to be sacrificed instead.

Is building huge swaths of minimum quality housing and vast areas of souless industrial estates, the best way to do it? I doubt it and I doubt that our childrens’ children will think so either.