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Thursday, June 11, 2009

Underfunded services

Gwynedd Council has become the latest Welsh Local Authority to predict massive cuts in its budget over the next three years. They have said that they are considering how to save £16m over that period. The Welsh Local Government Association have said that all Councils will have to chop tens of millions of pounds from their budgets and that further cuts may be necessary in the longer term.

All of this is inevitable of course given the way that the UK Government used public cash to prop up the banks and to bale out the economy. They are cutting the Welsh Government's grant and those cuts will be passed on to services. It is also clear that none of this is down to mismanagement on the part of individual Councils. They rely on central funding for most of their money so they are particularly vulnerable to changes in that income stream.

What is not inevitable is how the Welsh Government wields the axe. In the past Labour and Plaid Cymru have bolstered services they fund directly at the expense of local government. Thus they have not passed on all their grant increase to councils. That has consequences for the level of council tax and for local services. The calculation made by Ministers is that they can blame councillors for any consequential cuts.

That sort of short-sighted thinking cannot be allowed to prevail. Councils deliver some key frontline services that deserve the same sort of protection as health and transport. Nobody is asking for special treatment, just a level playing field.
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