Last week, the Council’s public consultation ended on the latest round of deep cuts to the city’s budget.
All councils in the UK are facing significant reductions in funding and Council Leaders in Wales have already warned that the scale and duration of cuts will damage the social fabric of communities across the country.
With deeper austerity cuts expected for the foreseeable future, service budgets in Cardiff will have to be reduced by a further £48.3 million for the financial year from April 2015.
We also have to find around a further £75 million to cut from budgets over the two years beyond 2015. We need to be prepared for what this will mean for our local services in future budget setting years.
£130 million has already been taken out of the council’s budget since 2009, a figure which is expected to rise to around £254 million by 2018. But when you’re faced not just with apparent prolonged austerity but also increased demand for your services – for example, as more pupils enter our education system and older people live longer and are in need of home support and social care – it’s clear that the role of local councils will have to change radically to stay within available budgets.
Since the summer, our own staff, together with public sector partners and elected members have been out to events across the city as part of the Cardiff Debate, listening to resident’ssuggestions and concerns and explaining the detail behind particular 2015/16 budget proposals. The Council’s seven week budget consultation which finished on last Monday is the longest in recent memory. In the process, we have tried to raise public awareness and to engage residents and service users in what potential solutions may look like. And this is a conversation which will certainly need to continue.
In the view of some local and national politicians (not me I would add!), we have to target budget cuts onto local public services to get the UK’s deficit down – yet despite the pain felt by cuts to local government already, the deficit has not reduced as quickly as predicted in 2010. Worse still, under current government plans, 60% of total spending cuts between 2010 and 2020 are still to come over the next parliament (2015 – 2020).
With funding coming out of the public sector so quickly, if we don’t modernise and do things differently, then we may not be able to continue to do them at all.
In our ongoing Cardiff Debate, some of the main messages from residents so far have included the need to cut bureaucracy and senior management costs, to generate more income and to invest in energy efficient technologies. Rest assured, we are doing all these things and more, saving millions of pounds for local tax payers in the process, but with the level of cuts being signalled, it is clear even this won’t be enough.
In Cardiff, we have responded with a clear city vision – to be Europe’s most liveable capital city – and with a series of regeneration projects to support new jobs and growth in the years ahead. Exciting plans for a new central bus interchange and a million square feet of new high-quality office, leisure and retail space in Central Square, including a landmark Norman Foster designed building for BBC Wales, are two such examples.
We’ve also stepped up our work with key stakeholders to argue the case more strongly for Cardiff, lobbying for additional infrastructure investment for the city and the wider city-region, including to the UK Government for a ‘City Growth Deal’, and through our recent membership of Core Cities UK as well as with the work of the Cardiff Business Council.
We want to invest in sustainable growth, new homes and jobs, not least because it delivers more income to support public services. It’s in all our interests to have more people in meaningful paid work and businesses paying taxes, with a taxation system that also helps local government to do even more to grow our local economies further.
In the short term though, it’s becoming ever harder to protect our communities from budget cuts as they impact more and more on the services in which many of us depend. We may have been able to console ourselves in the past that the worst of the cuts were happening in England, but in the years ahead it’s increasingly clear that without a fairer funding settlement for Wales, these cuts will reach our own front doors in a much more noticeable way.
That’s why many Councils right across the country are arguing more than ever that further cuts won’t be possible without significantly changing the very fabric of public services in our country. That’s not something the councillors I know set out to achieve when they entered local politics. That’s also why 2015 will be a critical year in setting the future shape and direction of our public services for a long time to come.