The answer to those cuts that thousands of people in Medway wanted to hear was not the answer that they were given by the Chancellor. They needed to hear that the government would provide local councils with the money that they needed to protect front line services.
But George Osborne’s solution is to force councils to sell off their assets to protect those much needed services. Councillor Vince Maple, Medway Labour group leader, was worried by the proposals: “The Chancellor’s ‘long term economic plan’ is clearly failing and he is out of ideas to protect front line services. Forcing local councils to foot the bill of those services by selling off their assets is not a sustainable policy.
“What George Osborne hasn’t answered is what happens when the money runs out from those asset sales. That’s because he doesn’t have an answer. The truth is that once that money is gone councils will have no choice to cut local front line services.
“Services such as libraries, swimming pools, leisure centres and so much more are a vital part of life to residents in Medway – they can’t afford to see those services cut.”
But on top of this worrying news for local residents the Chancellor’s inability to take responsibility for the funding of care to elderly and other vulnerable adults is likely to have further consequences for local people.
Instead of the government taking action to resolve the social care crisis that Britain faces he is passing the buck to local councils. He has told councils that they will be able to raise council tax by an additional 2% – at the expense of local residents – to be spent on social care.
But Councillor Teresa Murray, Medway Labour group spokesperson for Health and Adult Services, said that the responsibility should not fall to local councils and residents: “The social care crisis in Britain is a shameful record of this Tory government and they are passing the buck. But, at a time when people are finding it hard to get by the idea that councils and residents will have to clean up the government’s mess shows the contempt that the Tories hold people in.
“A 2% increase in council tax will not even come close to bridging the budget gap in social care that has been caused by deep Tory cuts. It is disgraceful that social care spending is at its lowest for 20 years, staff morale is low, training is given lip service and the Tories must not be allowed to get away with this betrayal.”
But one thing the government is keen to take out of the hands of local councils is education. The Chancellor said today that he wanted to take all schools out of local authority control.
Medway Labour group’s Education spokesperson, Councillor Adam Price, felt this was the wrong priority for Medway: “Here in Medway we have the worst Key Stage 2 results anywhere in the country – that is a betrayal of our young people.
“And yet the government’s priority is to force every school in Britain to become an academy. That, quite frankly, is the wrong priority for the schools, teachers, children and parents of Medway.”
Housing was a large part of this Autumn Statement and much has been made of the Chancellor’s announcement to provide money for private developers to build 400,000 new houses in England. But at a time when young people, in particular, are being priced out of the housing market no mention was made of those houses being ‘affordable’.
And with Medway facing a housing crisis Councillor Andy Stamp, Medway Labour group’s spokesperson for Regeneration, Community and Culture, was sceptical: “The promise to build 400,000 new homes may seem like a positive one but once you scratch beneath the surface you see a lock of provision.
“You can’t build 400,000 new homes without building more schools or improving transport links in the surrounding areas. George Osborne made no mention of how he would provide the infrastructure needed to build these homes.
“But here in Medway we have 20,000 people on the housing waiting list as well as a real lack of adequate housing. The Chancellor’s priorities are all wrong for the people of Medway.”
Today should have been the day that things took a turn for the better. The deficit should have been cleared and people should have stopped feeling the harsh reality of George Osborne’s cuts. But the reality of today is quite the opposite.
The Chancellor has continued to punish hard working people across Medway and Britain and he’s prepared to see our much needed front line services cut to shreds.
Labour’s campaigns to force the Chancellor to scrap his plans to cut tax credits and to prevent further cuts to police budgets come as a massive relief to thousands of people in Medway who will hope that the Chancellor stands by his decision not to cut the police or tax credits in the long term.
But all this does is further highlight that only Labour locally and nationally are prepared to stand up for hard working people and protect them from George Osborne’s unfair and damaging cuts.