Today’s Financial Times is running a feature on the cuts in spending by Conservative run councils, with a particular focus on Essex, Barnet and Hammersmith & Fulham. Whilst the Liberal Democrats have also talked about spending money better, and indeed many Lib Dem councils have also worked hard to keep tax rises low, this article suggests that what the Conservatives are doing is something much more fundamental.
Many of the changes in these particular councils have revolved around further outsourcing of service provision, cuts in frontline services such as parks, street cleaning, libraries and ‘culture’. Core services that Liberal Democrats usually go to great lengths to defend. But at the same time, the changes often involve cutting down the artificial divisions between departments, prioritising frontline staff over senior management and making services more transparent and accessible at hours that are more convenient. Something that Lib Dems would often support.
The question is whether what the Conservatives are doing is simply a more efficient way of running local government with the attendant cost savings, or is it simply service cuts by the back door (or in some cases, the front door). With the Conservatives now the largest party in local government, is this the sign of things to come in more and more parts of the country?