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End to government austerity? Don't believe it, says Ipswich council leader

PUBLISHED: 14:00 15 September 2019

The government says austerity is coming to an end - but Ipswich Borough Council leader David Ellesmere is sceptical. Picture: GARETH FULLER/PA

The government says austerity is coming to an end - but Ipswich Borough Council leader David Ellesmere is sceptical. Picture: GARETH FULLER/PA

The chancellor's recent Spending Review was hailed as an end to austerity.

David Ellesmere, leader of Ipswich Borough Council Picture: IBCDavid Ellesmere, leader of Ipswich Borough Council Picture: IBC

You probably don't need me to tell you that this should be taken with a large pinch of salt.

Big figures were bandied around for extra spending. Some were over-inflated like for education where the proposed annual increase is half what the government claimed.

The government hasn't said how all this will be paid for and the Office for Budget Responsibility wasn't given an opportunity to tell us whether the government's plans are responsible.

There is little detail about where extra money will go. We don't know how many extra police officers Suffolk will get or whether this will take us back to the numbers we had before the Conservative cuts started in 2010 (it probably won't).

The headlines told of significant extra funding for local government. Again, the detail is important.

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Most of that money is going to county councils which are teetering on the brink of bankruptcy due to rising social care costs. This money might step them back from the edge but it won't fix the major long-term budget problems they face.

For district councils like Ipswich Borough Council which empty bins, clean streets, provide council housing, homeless families units, sports centres, swimming pools, parks, museums and much more - and have had millions of pounds a year cut from their budgets - there was virtually nothing.

We were facing a cut in the amount of money we receive to tackle homelessness next year. It looks like extra money has been found to postpone this cut for a year.

That's about it.

New restrictions on how much money district councils can raise will actually make many worse off.

The government had announced that councils won't have to pay business rates on public toilets which would save Ipswich just £6,000 a year. Even that has now gone as the bill to make it happen was scrapped when Parliament was prorogued.

And remember, this review is only for a single year. Designed to get the Conservatives through an early general election it is likely to herald only a pause in austerity, rather than its true end.

For district councils, the cuts are likely to continue.

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