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Just a few weeks ago, during the Conservative party conference, the Prime Minister told us that austerity was over. Like many others, I was a little optimistic, thinking that the massive cuts to and huge financial pressures on our public services and local councils were finally coming to an end. This week’s Budget demonstrates that my optimism was misplaced. This Tory Government remain out of touch with the misery that they have inflicted on public services and local councils throughout the UK. The Chancellor now tells us not that austerity is over, but that it is coming to an end. This is, indeed, a broken-promises Budget.
Since 2010, there have been huge cuts to our public services. The grant to the Welsh Government has fallen by 7.2%, which means that Wales has around £4 billion less to spend than it would have had if its budget had kept pace with inflation.
We constantly hear the Government’s rhetoric about the financial position that they inherited. They constantly try to push a myth by referring to “Labour’s great recession” or a similar nonsense term. However, unfortunately for the Government, the people of this country will not fall for that. The British people know only too well that the 2008 financial downturn was a global one and did not originate in this country. Furthermore, although Gordon Brown had influence, as indeed do all Prime Ministers, causing a global financial downturn is a little bit outside the scope of their power.
The reality is that austerity has been the political choice of this Government and the coalition Government in 2010, based on political ideology. As I mentioned, the Welsh Government have had a huge cut since 2010, and although they tried to protect Welsh councils in the early years of austerity, Welsh local councils now face a very difficult financial situation. Some £4 billion less in the Welsh budget has a drastic impact on public services and local councils in Wales. Further cuts in my area will likely mean a significant reduction in street cleansing, grass cutting and highways maintenance, as well as the closure of civic amenity sites, a reduction in the budget for libraries and youth services, a significant reduction in school budgets and school initiatives, and the closure of leisure centres and community centres.
Let us make no mistake: these cuts and many more like them across the UK are the result of this Tory Government’s austerity agenda. I was a councillor for more than 20 years, so I fully appreciate that local councils are at the forefront of service delivery in our communities. They are having to make hugely tough decisions about cutting local services, but they are decisions over which they really have very little choice, owing to the harsh austerity inflicted by this Government. The Budget does not signal the end of austerity; the only thing that it delivers for families and communities is more cuts and misery.