It’s all over the news today that Surrey County Council (SCC), which covers some of the richest areas in the country, is to ballot its residents about a 15% increase in their council tax.
BBC News has been all over it, giving prominent airtime to a representative of the council, who told the interviewer that the move is about ‘integrity’ and being able to maintain even the basic services they have a statutory obligation to provide, such as care for the disabled and for children:
We’ve got to protect our children.
But it’s interesting that BBC News and other media are taking notice of this case, in a rich Tory county that has suffered only a fraction of the cuts that have hit much poorer areas.
SCC, according to its leader, has suffered a £170 million cut since the Tories moved into Downing Street in 2010.
But Liverpool, for example, has seen its funding from central government cut by £330 million – an incredible 58% – over the same period and is facing a further cut of £90m., meaning that by 2020 it will have lost almost 70% of its Whitehall funding. As Liverpool, a city with one of the highest levels of deprived areas in the UK, has 77% of its housing in the lowest two council tax bands, it currently raises only 11% of its funding from council tax, meaning that the 10% rise that the council plans to put to its residents in a referendum will not come close to covering the deficit.
Liverpool is by no means exceptional. Middlesbrough, a small town in the north-east of England and one of the poorest in the UK, has consistently suffered among the highest percentage cuts in its funding and, at the end of 2015 – just a year after suffering a one-year cut of over £14m – was told to save another £56m over the next 3 years.
The hammering of poor areas compared with the gentle treatment of rich areas is not merely a perception. FullFact analysed the cuts and found the discrepancy to be entirely factual.
Of course, places like Liverpool, Middlesbrough and the other places hit hardest by the Tories have more than just poverty in common. They are also overwhelmingly Labour-voting towns and cities.
So the government, and of course the media that serve their interests, have largely ignored them and the effects of draconian, unbalanced cuts.
Now a Tory county – which covers the constituencies of people like Chancellor Philip Hammond and Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt and which has suffered only a graze compared to poorer, Labour areas – is finding it can’t cope with the relatively light treatment it has received.
So the media start to take notice. It’s to be hoped that May, Hammond et al will do the same – and that even they won’t be as crass and brazen as to provide funding to soften the blow to the rich while ignoring the plight of the poorest.
Except they already have: almost all the (‘drop in the bucket’) £300m in ‘relief’ cash the government stumped up last year to ease the pain of council funding cuts to – you’ve guessed it – Surrey and places like it.
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