Ipswich has lost out from cuts to spending - but is it worse than anywhere else?
PUBLISHED: 05:30 31 January 2019 | UPDATED: 13:27 31 January 2019
This week's news that Ipswich has suffered more than other East Anglian "cities" from the loss of government support during a decade of austerity didn't, in all honesty, come as a huge surprise to me.
The town has lost many services – a significant proportion of them, as I’ve mentioned before, targeted at children or young people.
But actually compared with some other places on the list, I’m not sure that Ipswich hasn’t escaped slightly better than some of the other places on the list.
It was ridiculous that the county council closed the Bury Road Park and Ride in 2011 to save a tiny amount of money – it sent a really bad signal to everyone living north west of the town along the A14 corridor.
And the decision by the county council in 2015 to close two of the busiest children’s centres serving some of the most deprived people in Suffolk was ill-advised.
But other cuts and funding changes by the county council have been absorbed reasonably well.
A decade after the county’s library service came under threat, all its libraries are still open – and in Ipswich there have been some new facilities. Users still value the service and while some books might take longer to order, most people seem happy with how it is run.
The fire service cuts of a couple of years ago came and went. I’m not aware of anyone lying awake in bed at night worried that there are fewer appliances in Ipswich. Certainly I don’t personally feel less safe.
The figures in the Centre for Cities report didn’t include capital spending like the Travel Ipswich project or the aborted Upper Orwell Crossings project – both controversial in different ways.
Neither did it include the flood protection work undertaken by the Environment Agency to make the town, and especially the Waterfront area, less of a flood risk. I haven’t heard any moans about that investment in the town!
With the publication of the report, the county council has taken much of the flak for the cuts that have happened over the last few years.
That is fair enough to some degree – but there is no doubt that the cuts were forced on them by the severe reductions we have seen in central government support.
And I don’t really believe that the county, faced with these cuts, really directed them more at Ipswich than at other parts of Suffolk.
While there are challenges in Ipswich that are unique within Suffolk, it is the largest built-up area in the county, I don’t think you can really divorce the two communities.
Speaking as someone Suffolk born and bred and an adopted Ipswichian (having lived in the town 32 years) I really don’t see any reason to put up barriers between the urban and rural areas . . . although as I suggested two weeks ago, I’m not convinced there aren’t those living in the countryside who would like see Ipswich wiped off the map!
What the report really showed was that Whitehall and Westminster had used its financial power over local government to put a squeeze on services while trying desperately to keep its fingerprints off the dirty deeds.
Ministers and government MPs were given the chance to sit in their London offices saying: “Not me, guv,” as services were cut – while expressing their concern over local authorities’ decisions that had been forced on them by the spending cuts.
We haven’t seen so much of that recently – but certainly in the early days of the coalition government that did seem to be a familiar refrain.
What really worries me now, though, is that so far as county council spending is concerned I fear we still ain’t seen nuthin’ yet.
The crisis in social care is still miles down the road. But it is there. The government, so mired in the Brexit debate, hasn’t really done anything to prepare for what is awaiting us.
It’s great that we’re living longer. It’s good to know that some 97 (and even 100) year olds are able to drive.
But as we live longer there will be more and more people in their 80s and 90s living with dementia. There will be more people in their 70s becoming less mobile.
And no one in government is prepared to admit that if we are to look after them with the dignity they deserve, it will cost taxpayers more.
And as much as Whitehall wants to kick that can down to city and county halls, central government cannot go on forever pretending this is an issue that doesn’t require action on a national scale.