You get a chance to hear me here, discussing the cuts, in debate with deputy leader of Tory Swindon Borough Council, Cllr Garry Perkins.
AN: I would like to start by saying that obviously the amount of scope that the council have is relatively limited, we recognise that; but there still are choices that are made at a local level. But the main thrust of the argument from the [Swindon anti-cuts] group is that the entire economic policy of the government in making the level of cuts that it is doing is counter productive, it is based upon an unproven theory, and it is very dangerous because by making the level of cuts they are, then they are actually putting more people out of work, those people are not paying taxes, there is less economic activity, less people are paying VAT.
BBC: You are taking about the government in Westminster, but what can Swindon Council do about that?
AN: Well the purpose of our group is to campaign both against the national economic policy, and also against the local implementation of those cuts. Swindon Brough Council for instance, we know is loading a large amount of the cuts onto childrens’ services. Some 86% of the local cuts is going to children’s services which is certainly higher than the national average. But equally we know that whereas various cuts were made in the government grant to councils last year, Swindon lost out by £1.4 million, and other neighbouring councils, for example Vale of the White Horse or Stroud, lost nothing at all; Bath lost considerably less than Swindon. And so there was an unfairness. But we do have to get back to the fact that these cuts are being justified based upon a Deficit Deceit that we are in much bigger economic problems than we really are, and the arguments about the national economy are being used as an excuse for cuts in services that are counterproductive and will hit the most vulnerable.
BBC: Councillor Garry Perkins is here with me this morning. Good Morning.
GP. Good Morning.
BBC: So you are cutting too much from childrens’ services and the problem isn’t that bad
GP: It is quite interesting actually on that last point about the problems not being that bad; we know that this fiasco from the last government created the problem we are in; and yesterday the figures that came through on the trade; the Labour opposition are now peddling that things are worse than they were thought before Christmas. So you can’t have it both ways. But let us get back to Swindon at the moment. At this time of year, coming up to elections we have the opposition peddling all these fears and everything else; I gather there is one possible opposition candidate that is peddling round that we are going to close libraries in Swindon; we are one of the few local authorities
BBC: who is that? Who is saying that?
GP: I can’t say that. It will come up during the election. It is every year we hear these fears about cuts and how they are going to affect Swindon. Swindon over the last 5 or 6 years has managed the budgets exceptionally well. The budget has always been delivered, the services are still delivered to the residents of Swindon, and every year at this time of year, as I say, we have this scaremongering about the effects of all these cuts, and everything else, on the services. Swindon council is very much outcome delivery centred. What we are worried about is the effect on the residents, yes it would be great if we didn’t have these cuts, which are delivered from central government, which is £35 million, as we have spoken about, over the next three years. So we have to go and make changes about how the services are deleivered. But based upon our record, we have been exceptionally successful in delivering those savings without effecting the frontline services. Withn£35 million cuts, there are bound to be some effects, but these will be kept at a minimum; and we hear daily on the national news about councils making decisions to close libraries, to close leisure centres, closing community centres. There is none of that happening in Swindon.
BBC: Andy Newman, election on the way; Garry’s said you are trying to paint the current council as the bad guys, the wearers of the black hats. You are a socialist, is this political?
AN: It’s not party political. The group I represent covers people from a number of different political parties, I am not here to tout for the Labour Party. I do think we need to take up this question of the scale of the economic problems at a national level, because we need to separate out the two issues of debt and deficit. Debt is how much the government owes, and which is currently broadly around the same level as it was at the end of John Major’s government, to put that in perspective. The deficit is the difference between income and spending. Now up until 2008 there was no problem with the deficit in Britain. The deficit occurred with the recession; and 60% of the deficit is due to the fall in tax revenue from the recession. Only in fact 2% of the deficit is due to additional spending since 2008. the deficit itself could be addressed by increasing economic activity, which is what is being done in some other countries. The danger at the moment is that with the scale of cuts; that the people laid off will stop buying things, will stop paying tax, and will be a burden because they will be on welfare; which will make the situation worse. The government’s policy will only work if the private sector picks up the investment and we know that that is not happening. Over the last year, the cause of the recession is some £42 billion of investment being held back by private investors, because they don’t see a future in investing at the moment. And Garry was saying that things now are worse than people were thinking, well last year there was some £9 bn of government investment in things like the Building Schools for the Future scheme. Now that is all stopped, so what we are seeing, the reason we have a drop of economic activity in this quarter, is because of the lack of government investment. Now what the big worry is, that if we don’t have growth over the next year, then the cuts will make the deficit worse not better, because people won’t be spending any money, they won’t be paying any tax. So we do need to say that the government’s policy of making these cuts is very, very dangerous; and as a trade unionist, I have been representing, and my colleagues have from other different unions, a number of people who deliver front-line services to some of the most vulnerable people in Swindon who are now being told that they are at risk of redundancy. So, the cuts may not lead to headline closures perhaps, but there are individual cuts that will effect the most vulnerable and needy people in Swindon.
BBC: Garry, I am going to get you to respond to that, the cuts are too much, we can’t afford them.
GP: Well, I agree with the last statement that we can’t afford. We can’t afford to spend the money we don’t have. And that is where have got in this situation that governments over the last 13 years have spent money they don’t have; and the Building Schools for the Future programme was never funded, and was purely a gimmick to hopefully win the next election, which failed. But as far as Swindon is concerned at the moment we are succeeding. Yes we have cut our budgets quite considerably, yes we are delivering, and no, the vulnerable are not being affected, because they always have, and always will have priority on the services delivered in Swindon. And we have heard so many rumours about cuts, on Dial-a-Ride and everything else; and they never happen; it is all wishful thinking on the part of the opposition.
AN: Garry, can I ask you a question?
AN: In terms of the front line delivery staff in the primary mental heath care team in childrens’ services, these are the people who deal with children in schools and across Swindon at a borough level, with mental health and mental distress issues, can you say there are no cuts in that service? My understanding is that something like 4 out of 10 front line practitioners
GP: We are not talking about cuts. You consider cuts …
AN: Well they are losing their jobs.
GP: … as the removal of jobs. It won’t affect the outcome, the service outcome to the children at the end of the day.