All local councils and unitary authorities are about half way through their cuts, austerity programmes or whatever you choose to call them. Bristol City Council have implemented just shy of a 150m of cuts by slashing grants to service providers and charities, cutting services and making efficiency savings. There will be more to come. Bath and North East Somerset have cut, so have North Somerset and South Gloucestershire. Have you noticed the cuts so far? Have you? Really? Probably not as the cuts so far have mostly been ‘efficiency savings’, changing what councils do and how they do it so the cuts actually doesn’t bother you. They should.
You will soon begin to actually feel the Council cuts too, and there will be little you can do about it. Or can you?
Take BANES. One of their cuts, proposed last year, was to close public toilets. ‘No’ said the residents, one of whom ended up sleeping in one the toilets slated for closure in centre of Bath. The Council decided to not go ahead with the cut. In Bristol, the council have 19 members of their Parks, Crematorium and Cemetery tending these council grounds and gardens. They were late in recruiting them, maybe as a result of wage saving or a wage bill cut. On my radio programme we heard that Bristol City Council were not looking after these parks, that cemeteries were over grown and one widow told me she fell into an over grown grave trying while trying visit her husbands grave because the grass was so tall. Two weeks later these cemeteries have now been tended, of sorts, and the grass has been strimed. Why? Simply because pressure was brought to bare on Bristol City Council.
Is this the answer? Shout on local radio and council will do it? Maybe, but it is a little more complicated than that.
The liberal democracy argument is that you vote for your councillor (or Mayor), the one with the most votes gets in, they act in the interests of all the electorate and then, in due time, you vote for them again (or not) depending on how they have done. The reality of our actual relationship with our council is that they don’t really effect most of us beyond paying out council tax and them collecting our rubbish and filling in the pot holes on the roads we drive. It all seems very simple. But it isn’t.
Local Government effects you more than you realise and to not get involved, to just do your recycling and drive repeatedly over a pothole riddled road without reporting it is NOT good enough. You need to get involved. The money you pay every year is enough for a good family holiday or a better pension when you retire. You need to hold your councillor and your council to account. If you don’t the leaders of each council or the elected Mayor of Bristol will end up being responsible for managing the waste management contract and adult social care and they will be unable to do anything for you or your neighbours. They will do what they have to do and not what you want them to do, with your money.
So what has happened to your money so far? Here is a clue. Most of the cuts so far have been achieved through ‘efficiency savings’. Bristol achieved 50m through ‘efficiency savings’. Why was any council allowed to ever be inefficient with your money. Every penny you pay should go towards what you want it to, for the benefit of you and your neighbours. Any council inefficiency is not acceptable. It’s your money, it’s your vote and between you voting it is your right to hold your councillor and council to account.
To put this another way, would you give someone you know a £150 a month, every month and not ask questions about what they were doing with it? It is your democratic right to make sure that your council do what you want or, at the very least, you know what they are doing even if you don’t like it. Never again should we allow any council to say they are making ‘efficiency savings’, and if they do you must ask why. And then ask why again.