Should we cut the youth club or the old peoples home? Should we buy salt for the roads or help the elderly with insulation this winter? Should we close the sports centre or the library? Whose bus should we cancel the subsidy for? Should we reduce provision for under 5s or cancel the employability scheme for 18-25 year olds?
These are the questions that must be answered, and it is not Clegg or Cameron who must answer them. It is your local councillor. These decisions are not easy to make and unfortunately the answer will probably be 'we need to cut in all areas'. Difficult choices however must be be made, and made quickly; Durham County Councils funding has been cut by £65 Million this year1 followed by further cuts over the next 3 years.
Tory and Lib Dem Ministers start, and finish, every statement regarding the cuts with a now familiar phrase 'the mess Labour left' and it remains a clever tactic, but ignores several facts.
1. The UK economy was growing when Labour was spending.
2. Spending = Investing in jobs and public services.
3 The global banking crisis meant that banks had to be bailed out with billions of public pounds, a move that at the time, was supported by the the opposition.
The other often repeated line that if Labour were in power cuts would still have to be made. This is true, but the cuts would not be front loaded and the choices would not be so stark. The Coalition have chosen to cut funding to local authorities in such a way that councillors are left making decisions that they know will directly effect the people they live with. There are many reasons why a person might get involved in local politics; explaining and apologising for the loss of a relied on service is probably not high on the list.
The Tories can only impose these cuts on Councils in such a fast acting venomous manner because of support from their close friends, the Liberal Democrats. Lib Dems have voted with the government on almost every motion put forward. They claim to have moderated the Tories; The current cuts disproportionately target women, the young and the old leaving the rich to carry on as usual. These cuts are extreme, not moderate in any aspect.
Lib Dem councillors are creatures of habit and are well used to being able to criticise both Labour and the Tories. Few Lib Dems survived the recent Newcastle elections. In County Durham local elections are not until 2013 and remaining Lib Dems are finding that old habits die hard. It is easy for them to blame Labour councillors for every difficult decision that effects services in the County. It is however, Liberal Democrats who nod, shout 'hear hear' and make this unnecessarily rapid budget reduction a grim reality.