From Ukraine with cuts


The connection between Ukrainian separatists and potholes in England may seem tenuous to say the least but sometimes international events can have local impacts.

For the past four years health and education have been ring-fenced from the kind of spending cuts that have fallen on local government and other non-protected sectors. Indeed the two sectors most hit by cuts have been local government and defence.

During the last few weeks of electioneering it has becoming increasingly clear that the ring-fencing – or freezing - of education, health and international development spending will continue into the next spending review. However there is also another addition to this magic circle of protected departments, namely defence. For events in the Middle East and the Ukraine have made it highly unlikely that the next government will take a further axe to defence spending, holding it at 2% of GDP.

This means then that the only major sector to be unprotected is local government and considering that 86% of the coalition’s deficit-reduction plans to 2020 involve spending cuts not taxes this does not augur well for councils.

Undeterred the Local Government Association has just submitted an ambitious list of spending requests to the Treasury for consideration in the Budget next month. One of these is £1 billion on road maintenance which it says should be funded from existing fuel duty to the tune of 2p in the litre. Somehow I suspect the Treasury’s response to this will be a loud raspberry despite the estimate that the country has a £12bn backlog of road repairs. Whitehall will see it as a matter for councils to prioritise, as if somehow potholes are ever likely to take precedence over children's services.

Nor will the Treasury pay much heed to the LGA’s call to reverse some of the £60m cuts in funding for the statutory concessionary fares scheme which it says has led to a 15% fall in funding for bus services. It wants councils to have control of the Bus Service Operators’ Grant so that some of this cash can help struggling but much-needed rural bus services.

When it comes to guns or butter – or in this case, buses – I fear that guns will be winning out.


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