One of the regular phrases applied to the Brown/Blair Governments by the coalition when first arriving in office was that they failed to mend the roof whilst the sun was shining. The incomers made these accusations filled with confidence (or so one assumes) that their Chancellor would be able to deal with the deficit within 5 years. However now as we approach the next election the true picture is emerging with the two main parties both claiming that they will cut spending deeper than the other, particularly in the context of local services. That is not rhetoric. I have written about this before based on the honest discussions taking place in Sussex in my presence. The Local Government and other Public Sector agencies are all trying to prepare for change that few would have contemplated in 2009/10 even though at that stage they were already dealing with deep cuts.
If it is a poor decision not to repair a roof when the sun is shining, then Eric Pickles and Iain Duncan Smith along with their front bench teams and the rest of the Cabinet must take the responsibility for stripping the roof whilst there were showers. Throughout his tenure as Minister for the Department for Communities and Local Government Eric Pickles has acted as a buffer between the Cabinet and Local Government, rather than attempting to focus the messages that people he sometimes refers to as chums have been trying to get through. This news report tells us that CLG has acted in a manner that would at best be described as ostrich like. The findings from the National Audit Office claim that the Department for Communities and Local Government did not monitor the impact of spending cuts “in a co-ordinated way”, instead relying on other departments for alerts. As a result, it said, the government risked finding out about serious problems “only after they have occurred”. NAO head Sir Amyas Morse said: “The department really needs to be better informed about the situation on the ground among local authorities across England, in a much more active way, in order to head off serious problems before they happen.”
I do not find these comments surprising although they are nevertheless disturbing that what might have been a localised experience in Sussex is after all a national phenomena as we all feared. At the outset of the changes introduced by the Department for Work and Pensions, the so called Welfare Reforms, a senior Civil Servant admitted to a group of leaders of public services that no modelling had been carried out by the Government on the impact of the various measures being proposed in terms of their combined impact.
As we approach a General Election we appear to be faced with 3 major parties, one of which apparently failed to fix the roof and two others that seem to have stripped it of what covering it did have. That is not much choice. However it is now raining and those getting wet are not the people whose voices are being listened to. However this is not just a tragedy for people who are dependent on the benefits that the DWP have been ‘reforming’ but for everyone who is dependent on public services including the Police, Fire & Rescue, NHS, Local Government and of course the Benefits including in time, Pensions. Whilst that may leave a few people who can afford their own security services and whose homes are well protected against fire, that is very few people!