When he was asked his first question in the House of Commons this week, Eric Pickles, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, responded “I beg your pardon, Mr Speaker, but I have not the remotest idea where I am.” Most of us were not surprised, as his populist announcements having increasingly departed from reality.
The debate was about the impact of the government’s policies on voluntary organisations. David Cameron’s stated policy objective of a Big Society seems at increasing variance with the big cuts in funding for the voluntary sector throughout the country. To many national and local voluntary organisations, it looks far more like a Smaller Society.
Eric Pickles’ Local Government Minister then told MPs “Spending decisions are a matter for local councils, but no council will see its spending power fall by more than 8.8% next year.” He continued “The worst-run councils are targeting the sector for disproportionate cuts.”
So, what are we to make of the decision of the Liberal Democrat controlled Sheffield City Council to cut the total grant to Sheffield voluntary organisations by 15% in cash terms (close to 19% in real terms) next year? This is twice as much as the Minister says the City Council’s spending power is being cut. I think most people will think that ‘twice as much’ is ‘disproportionate’.
Further, although the total cut is 15% cash, many local organisations in our area – from the Citizens Advice Bureau to pensioners’ groups to those working to improve the local environment – will not actually know how big a cut they face until July.
Thus, we’re left with Local Government Minister describing the council as ‘worst-run’ whilst the Deputy Prime Minister says he is supporting his Liberal Democrat council colleagues’ budget decisions.
I’m confused. I leave you to make up your own minds.