Cuts to family budgets bite

Cuts to childcare support alone will leave families up to £1500 a year worse off

Families in Blackburn with Darwen on Wednesday started to feel the real impact of the Conservative-led Government’s decision to cut too deep and too fast as cuts to tax credits, childcare support and child benefit start to take hold.

With family budgets already squeezed by January’s VAT increase and rising inflation Labour is warning that Wednesday’s measures will add to the growing squeeze on millions of families on low and middle incomes – with women and families with children being hardest hit:

  • A total of 570 families people across the Borough who claim support for childcare costs will lose an average of £ 439 a year due to cuts to this support alone, according to independent research by the Resolution Foundation. Some families with two or more children could lose up to £1560.
  • A total of 21,020 families in Blackburn with Darwen will see their child benefit frozen for three years from this month – a real terms cut of £75.40 this year for a family with three children., a total of 39965 children affected.
  • And around 4215 more people on middle incomes in the Borough started paying tax at the 40p higher rate threshold meaning even more families will lose all their child benefit in 2013 – worth £2,500 for a family with three children.

Analysis by the House of Commons Library shows that the changes coming in today, combined with the Government’s VAT rise, will cost a family with three children – and each parent earning £26,000 – over £1,700 a year. This is equivalent to around 5p extra on the basic rate of income tax.

“David Cameron promised to lead the most family-friendly government ever and George Osborne said we’re all in this together. So why are their changes to tax and benefits coming into force today hitting women harder than men and taking so much support from children, with families on low and middle incomes being hit the hardest of all?”

“We’ve been through a global financial crisis – not a recession made in Britain. And like every major economy in the world we now have a big challenge to get the deficit down. So there have to be tough decisions including some spending cuts and fair tax rises like the 50p top rate of tax for the richest and the national insurance rise we proposed last year.

“But as Labour has consistently argued, by making a political choice to cut the deficit further and faster than any other major country George Osborne is going too deep and too fast and putting jobs and growth in Blackburn with Darwen at risk. And he is doing so in an unfair way, giving the banks a tax cut this year while low and middle income families here in Blackburn with Darwen are hit hard

Labour’s shadow chancellor Ed Balls MP added:

“This is a Black Wednesday for thousands of families in the country.

“The Conservative-led government says some families will be better off because of a small cut in income tax. But this change is more than offset by the VAT rise – which the government itself says will cost a family with children an average of £450 a year – and all the other changes coming into effect today. As the independent Institute for Fiscal Studies has said the government is giving a little with one hand, but taking much more away with lots of other hands.

“Cutting too deep and too fast isn’t just hurting families and businesses, it also isn’t working. We’ve now got higher unemployment and slower growth and so the government will actually be borrowing £46 billion more than planned. That’s a vicious circle because with fewer people in work paying taxes, it’s harder to get the deficit down.”

Ask why the Tories & the Liberals have abandoned Blackburn

Last week I stood up at the Councils annual finance meeting and supported a budget that brought in savage cuts to council services. It gave me no pleasure as the cuts are going to lead to redundancies and financial hardship and there will be a huge loss to the local economy.

Over the last 3 years, this authority received the one of the highest financial settlement in the country but of course that was under a Labour Government that believed in putting resources in areas with the greatest need, and believed in public service. The Tories and Liberal that ran Blackburn at the time didn’t complain, in fact they wasted a lot of the money buying property and land that wasn’t needed and committing the Council to unsustainable spending plans.

Now the Tories and Liberals are in Government they have revealed their real priorities, and they don’t include supporting the residents of this Borough. Blackburn has lost 25% of the money it usually receives from Central Government and this has led to the budgetary decisions that have had to be taken. The Tory led Government don’t believe in protecting the vulnerable but they obviously do believe in protecting the more affluent southern areas of this country where cuts have been minimised. They also believe that their friends in the City like Sir Phillip Green can continue to avoid paying taxes and that Banker’s can continue to be paid big bonuses.

So in the weeks and months ahead when a Tory or Liberal canvasser calls at your door or calls you over the phone ask them why their Government has abandoned the people of Blackburn. When they tell you the cuts are all the fault of the last Labour Government ask them which Sure Start Centre, which Health facility or which housing improvement scheme that was undertaken in Blackburn they opposed or didn’t want to be done. And most of all ask them to hold their heads in shame that the Government that they support and they helped elect are overseeing one the most savage attack on ordinary people in East Lancashire since the days of Thatcher and the poll tax.

Sad times ahead for our town and its citizens

This week we face sad and worrying times in Blackburn as a consequence of the vicious cuts imposed by the Tory High Executioners in Westminster supported by their Liberal Democrat poodles. The members of those parties locally should hang their heads in shame at the damage their colleagues in Government are inflicting on our town and our people.

This Thursday Blackburn with Darwen’s Executive Board will put in train a process that ultimately will lead to around 1000 people losing their jobs and from the end of March we will see Council services slashed and in some instances discontinued all together.

The loss of these jobs will have devastating affect on the local economy and together with the decline in services no family living in the Borough will be left unaffected.

Blackburn with Darwen is faced by a cut of nearly £28 million in this year alone, despite your Labour Council trying hard to protect front line services all key areas have been hit. We have reduced Councillors allowances by 10%, cut the number of senior officers by 30%, made efficiencies by sharing our management with health and greatly reduced back office costs but in reality these are but a drop in the ocean given the size of the short fall in the funding we have received..

Sadly, therefore I have to inform you that from April there will be less street cleaning, less care for the elderly, less provision for our young people, less buses, reduced hours in libraries, leisure centres and less help and advice for those on benefits, just when we need it most. There will be less delivered by the voluntary sector, the health sector and the Police Authority

On Thursday and in the weeks and months ahead however, we will not forget where the blame for such damaging consequences lies. The Tories have always looked out for their banker friends with their bonuses in the City and those who live in the affluent areas of the country. It is patently unfair that a Council like Blackburn has been hit harder than the leafy Boroughs of the south or the rural parts of the North West.

When David Cameron and George Osborne cynically claim that we are all in this together we can be forgiven for resorting to so called un-parliamentary language by questioning their sincerity and honesty.

Welcome to an uncertain 2011

Imagine waking up tomorrow and finding your household income down by a quarter. What would you cut from your household budget and what effect would that have, do you pay your mortgage or buy food?

That’s the problem we face in Blackburn because of the Tory led Coalition Government.

As a result of cuts being handed out by the government – 22% cuts in our budget next financial year alone (£28 million) we face terrible dilemmas about the future of vital services in the towns and communities of Blackburn with Darwen.

A farcical situation has been engineered where poor areas such as Blackburn, Burnley, Pendle and Hyndburn are being asked to make huge cuts whilst more than more affluent areas like Ribble Valley, Fylde and the Southern shires with Tory MP’s are having their funding protected.

To make matters worse the Government are telling bare faced lies in claiming we only have to make 8.9% cuts. In calculating our budget they have conveniently left off nearly £30m in grants that we expected but which have been withdrawn. They refuse to explain why and instead they have chosen to use friendly national media in order to spin their way out of what they have done.

Despite this the local Labour administration is trying to minimise the impact of these cuts but the public needs to realise that the reduction in funding is so savage that services will have to change. People will have to pay more in certain areas, services will operate differently and we will have less to spend on many services people think are important such as highways and environmental services.

To minimise the damage to front line services we have already made savings by cutting 8 directors posts and senior manager posts which has saved £2 million. We are also cutting our back office functions by 35%. Despite this we still have to make millions of pounds of cuts that inevitably will reduce services provided to the public.

Throughout the difficult process in the months ahead our focus will remain on ensuring that the most vulnerable people in our communities are protected as much as possible. However, let’s be clear, these are the worst cuts local government has ever faced. They are even worse than the 1980s under Margaret Thatcher and we all know the impact those cuts had on society leaving a generation with no hope. It is ironic that this time the Tories are being assisted by the Liberal Democrats who despite trying to promote themselves as the champions of localism and fairness have chosen to sign up this savage attack on our communities in return for ministerial privileges.

Huge cuts from the spending review will hit the most vulnerable

Are they sharing the pain?

The 30+%,cuts to local government announced in the recent spending review will hit the most vulnerable in society. Be under no illusion the ConDem Government is undertaking a vicious attack on our communities that will be felt for years to come and are driven by discredited ideology, not fiscal prudence.

As we await more details of exactly how much money will actually be cut from the funding we receive we can be forgiven for being sceptical about what Con Dem ministers say about local control and local decision making. It is all very well for the government to devolve power to local government, but if they do not fully devolve budgets at the same time, they simply spread the blame for the deficit without responsibility.

Let everyone be aware, there is a sting in the tail of the cuts package that will only fully hit home over the next few months. We fully expect that by the end of the year Blackburn and Darwen will lose out much more than others because of the nature of the problems in our area.

We also need to highlight the weaknesses of the Governments argument in favour of cutting public spending in the way they propose. Their flawed principle of the Private Sector creating employment for those from the Public Sector losing their jobs would be a joke if it wasn’t so devastating for those who are going to lose their jobs.

A first year student studying economics can see that people employed in the public sector contribute with their spending power to growth in the private sector. In addition the Government totally ignores that many local firms benefit and rely on work from Councils and other areas of the public sector.

Despite the recent damaging announcements in the weeks and months ahead, here in Blackburn we will try where ever possible to protect front line services and the most vulnerable. It won’t be easy but we will do our best.

Why Labour should take control of Blackburn with Darwen Borough Council

In May of this year, despite losing the General Election, the Labour Party in the North West, and in particular locally in Blackburn and Darwen performed well and showed its policies were supported by the majority of the electorate.

In Blackburn Labour made significant gains and is the largest party on the Council with 31 seats. Despite this, the rag bag of other parties including the Tories and Liberal Democrats managed to coble a coalition by agreeing a number of back room deals and engaging in the usual “pork barrel” politics that has become their trademark. Those of us in the Labour Party predicted it wouldn’t work and that it wouldn’t last and we have been proved right.

In the last few weeks after hundreds of ordinary Blackburn citizens took to the streets in protest of the Coalition’s policies to slash services including closing Shadsworth Leisure Centre and our Community Centres two members decided they had had enough and have resigned from the Coalition.

Although these two members have chosen to sit as independents the Labour Group is faced with a dilemma. Should we wait till next year when we are likely to win a majority of seats ensuring we can take overall control of the Council or should we act now?

All members of the Labour Group entered politics to protect their communities and make things better for the people who take the time to support and vote for them. We have seen in the three years that the Coalition has run the Council the damage they can inflict on our communities and neighbourhoods. They have cut vital services, increased fees and charges, withdrawn bus routes and cancelled popular events enjoyed by all such as Arts in the Parks. They are closing Shadsworth Leisure Centre and the Community Centres and they are undertaking a number of reviews that we know will lead to scaling back in key area such as libraries, social services and education and are cutting the valuable PCSOs who protect our communities.

That is why we must try to act and act now.

The Labour Group has agreed that once everyone returns form their summer holidays the Council should meet and a vote of no confidence in the policies of the Tory led coalition will be debated. If, as we expect, the motion is carried the Labour Group is prepared to take control of the Council in order to sort out the mess we find ourselves in.

We know it won’t be easy but we owe it to the people of Blackburn and Darwen who voted for us in their thousands to take responsibility and represent their interests including trying to protect the most vulnerable who rely on the Council’s services.

We are sure the vast majority of Blackburners and Darreners will support us in our endeavours.

A strange tale from a Liberal Councillor up North

After recuperating from the recent special Council meeting, when unsurprisingly Blackburn’s ruling coalition was embarrassed to find that even its own members could not support its damaging cuts packages, I was surfing the internet and came across a strange but interesting tale.

It concerns Lib Dem Councillor Sharron Brook who has put out a letter to her residents of her Dearne South Ward in Barnsley. In it she thanks the residents for voting for her at the recent election and then she gets to the main reason why she is writing to them.

“…. which is to ask you what you would like us to do, seeing that the Liberal Democrats have chosen to form a coalition with the Conservatives, never considering the people in the deprived north”

She continues

“We are ashamed, as you are, of what the National Lib Dems have done in joining the Conservatives. Since 1964 I have had faith in the Liberals thinking they were principled, perhaps they were in years gone by but not after this election”

Cllr Brook then goes on to give her residents three choices and asks them for their wishes for her future:

  1. Go it alone
  2. Join the Labour Party
  3. Stay as a Liberal Democrat

It would be really interesting if the Lib Dems in Blackburn and Darwen asked the voters a similar question as I think we can all guess the answer wouldn’t be number three.

Do the Tories plan to fund the shires with Blackburn money? My letter to Michael Lee on council funding

Recent comments by Tory front bencher Caroline Spelman don’t bode well for Blackburn with Darwen Council. Here’s my letter to Conservative council leader Michael Lee:

Dear Michael,

Caroline Spelman, Tory Shadow Secretary for Communities and Local Government, is quoted in the Sunday Telegraph (4th April) as complaining that the Government grant to local councils unduly favours town and cities against shire counties and districts.

The argument does not stand up to examination. Are the Tories in favour either of increasing the total grant for councils (in which case where is the money coming from?) or taking it from towns and cities to redress the alleged imbalance?

As you are aware Blackburn and Darwen has benefited greatly from the Government allocation, the second highest in the country, allowing us to address the 18 years of Tory underfunding.

We have benefited from Building Schools for the Future Funding, new build for our hospital, additional money to address the problem of potholes, millions to help tackle the worst housing in the Borough, millions to tackle skills shortage and to address unemployment, millions to help small businesses and millions to address transport issues.

We saw money for concessionary fares being given away to districts and County. Are you in agreement of taking this a step further and supporting a reduction in our grant from Government in favour of districts and County?

Are you, David Foster and Tony Melia in favour of grant and services being cut in Blackburn and Darwen so that money can be re-distributed to shire counties and districts

Do you agree that Blackburn and Darwen should be losing money in this way?

If not will you state publicly that you are opposed to Tory policy of changing the way our town is funded?

Kate Hollern

We’ll be posting his response here as and when we receive it.

Blackburn’s roads

The Big Freeze that hit Blackburn with Darwen this winter inflicted massive damage on our already poor roads. Snow and ice left the already hole filled roads in the Borough with a  moonscape of pitted and potholed roads to be repaired right across the Borough. The roads have become a danger to road users, pedestrians, cars and bikes. At one point I thought they were trying to create a number of swimming pools on every street.

That’s why in last week’s Budget, Labour announced an extra £100 million funding for local authorities to help put the damage right – including an extra £143,000 for Blackburn with Darwen.

With the encouragement of Jack, who has had complaints from many residents on the state of the roads, the Government took  rapid and decisive action to ensure that our roads are in the best possible condition before next winter.

Knowing how this Tory /Liberal run Council has wasted hundreds of thousands of pounds that has been given to them by the Labour Government, and to make sure it is spent on our roads, the money will be ring-fenced, with the Council being forced to  publish a  report on the work they’ve carried out with the funding.

This means the funding will go where it should go – to plug the potholes.  And we’ll be able to make sure that Blackburn with Darwen Council has made the repairs properly and spent the money wisely.

You’ll also be pleased to know that Labour has recently announced plans to make sure utility companies repair roads properly after carrying out their work. Taken together, it is clear proof of our determination to tackle maintenance problems and make our local roads safe and fit for purpose.

All this comes on top of a trebling in Labour’s investment for local road maintenance over the past decade – up from £265 million in 2000/01 to £809 million in 2010/11, it’s just a pity that this Tory/Lib run Council has not spent the money wisely.

But we understand we must also look forward to help avoid another sudden deterioration in road conditions in the future. So, we will be ensuring that this Council will focus on longer term resurfacing and maintenance work.

All this demonstrates that when things go wrong, Labour is on your side. Taking the decisions in the interest of the many and not the few and working to make the road ahead as smooth as possible

Tories forced to reassess their chances as Cameron nowhere to be seen

As the dust settles on the magnificent victory by Labour’s Mustafa Desai in February’s Queen’s Park by-election there were glum faces amongst leading Tories, Michael Lee and Michael Law-Riding at the count.  Why could this be?

Sources close to the local Tory party have admitted that they had informed Conservative Party Central Office in London they were poised to win the seat. As a consequence, plans had been made for David Cameron to visit Blackburn on Election Day.  However, when by mid morning it became clear that their initial predictions had been a might over optimistic, a mad panic ensued as the visit was hastily called off and a chastened Mr Cameron was told to stay away.  In the end the Conservatives finished a poor third with only 15% of the vote.  In the supposed Tory stronghold of Guide it is believed that they received barely thirty votes.

The by-election results sent a clear message that the people of Blackburn are continuing to reject Cameron’s Tories.  Maybe Mr Law-Riding who previously thought that he had the Blackburn seat “sewn up” will be reassessing his chances after this disaster!