A billion here, a billion there. Or put another and more honest way, £1,000,000,000 here, £1,000,000,000 there…

Never say billion. A billion is a little word, a quick word, a word with which to hide ugly realities like budget cuts, deficits and debt. Always say ‘thousand million’. Trillions are even worse. Compare and contrast as an example ‘the UK’s deficit is £1.6 trillion’ with ‘Various UK governments, Labour, Conservative or Coalition, have run up a debt of £1,600,000,000,000.’

Austerity for local government began in 2008, with the support grant– or whatever they called it then, governments keep changing words and definitions in an attempt to hide what they are up to – being cut by one thousand million pounds. There was a further cut of one thousand million pounds the next year. So we got two thousand million less. And the next. Three thousand million less. And the next. Four thousand million less…  

By 2018 the budget available to local councils was down by £10,000,000,000. Over a ten year period local government was starved of fifty five thousand million pounds, deprived of the funds for child care centres, libraries, special needs education, respite relief for those carers who need some break from intolerable burdens. Road repairs, maintenance of parks and swimming pools, subsidies for car parks and support groups for the old and ill. All cut, all justified by the need to reduce the debt and attack the ballooning deficit.

Central government is very keen on loading more responsibility onto local councils: it spreads the blame when the money runs out. George Osborne (not the only guilty man but he bears a very large responsibility) made the cynical calculation that voters tend to be very loyal at county, borough and district level, very resistant to changing their vote, very tribal, so they would take the hit and come back for more. He was right if my experience as a councillor is anything to go by: in spite of our fighting – sometimes very effectively — for our residents for four years, come 2017 they went back to their old voting patterns and we were wiped out.

Osborne was justified in narrow political terms, at least where local loyalties were concerned, but his assumption nearly failed when it came to the 2017 general election. Then the pain felt at local level spilled over to change the voting patterns of those who were suffering most from the cuts, those who were frightened by the suggestion in the Conservative manifesto of other cuts to come for the old and those suffering from long-term illness. That resurgence in the Labour vote was entirely predictable.

Total saved, fifty five thousand million pounds.

When the incompetent Mrs May sent her negotiators to Brussels to free us from the burden of our EU membership, the first thing they did was agree to pay thirty nine thousand million pounds up front with the promise of more to come. That’s all the money saved from the local government budget from 2014 to 2018, so the county and boroughs and districts, the town councils and the parish councils could have stopped all the belt tightening four years ago. There is talk of further EU danegeld, more blackmail payments. Here’s one prediction, a partial analysis indeed but more likely to be correct than anything emanating from this mendacious government: “The British government insists that the Brexit bill will be £39 billion, with payments that mostly decrease annually until 2064. But EU negotiators have never endorsed a specific figure, with one senior EU source estimating last year the figure would be £53 billion. (www.businessinsider.com)”  

Anyone want to bet the total she finally agrees to equals or exceeds that £55,000,000,000? All those cuts, all that hardship. All those unfilled potholes. All that loss of the things that hold a community together, the things that matter to a civilised society. All that worry for the old and infirm. All of it just splashed away before we were allowed to negotiate our freedom, as if a few tens of thousand million pounds don’t matter.

Ten billion here, ten billion there. Pretty soon we’ll be talking serious money.


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