Cat Smith column: Tory cuts are having shocking consequences for the most vulnerable, and this towns fund 'bribe' won't help

Cat Smith MP says Government cuts to council funding are hitting the most vulnerable people in society
Cat Smith MP says Government cuts to council funding are hitting the most vulnerable people in society

In her weekly column, Fleetwood MP Cat Smith takes the Government to task over the effects of budget cuts, and the new 'Stronger Towns Fund' for the north

Shocking cost cutting by the Conservatives is having dire consequences for those of us in Lancashire. The Conservative-controlled county council has already slashed services for children and young people, and now they’re turning their attention on the elderly and families who care for people with disabilities.

Many of us depend on council funding of residential care for our elderly and disabled relatives. When our loved ones become disabled or too elderly and infirm to look after themselves, the council has, in the past, stepped in by offering a place in a residential home. No more. In the 2019/20 budget the Conservatives will slash more than £3million for residential care. The Conservatives will cut a further £77 million from Lancashire’s budget due to a 60 per cent reduction in government funding.

In addition, elderly people face an increase of 14 per cent in home care support charges, 15 per cent in day centre charges, home maintenance services will be stopped and there will be a reduction in carer staff support.

These savage cuts will force families to instead provide care. Many will have to give up work, putting at risk their ability to pay bills, return to the workplace and feelings of isolation, with the subsequent health consequences this brings. This is also no way to treat vulnerable people when they need us the most. In addition, it will hit the women of Lancashire the hardest of all.

The local government funding crisis has become so dire that councils are being forced to sell thousands of public spaces – from libraries to playgrounds – and are using some of the cash to pay for further service cuts and redundancy payments.

The Bureau of Investigative Journalism, in collaboration with HuffPost UK, has compiled data on more than 12,000 public spaces disposed of by councils since 2014/15. One in six councils in England have used a total of £381 million from sales of buildings and land to pay for cost cutting since April 2016. Almost a third of that – £115 million – was spent on pay-offs to make people redundant. It lays bare the spiralling impact of eight successive years of austerity, leaving services shut and buildings closed.

How, then, can the Government suddenly find a pot of money to spend on a so called ‘Stronger Towns fund,’ allegedly to boost less well-off areas post-Brexit – areas that are less well off because of the Government’s austerity measures?

This ‘towns fund,’ drip-fed over seven years, amounts to a mere £281 million (a fraction of what has been cut) shared by towns across Cheshire, Cumbria, Greater Manchester, Lancashire and Merseyside. This smacks of desperation from a government reduced to bribing MPs to vote for damaging Brexit deals.

There would have been a lot more money had it not been for incompetence by the Transport Secretary Chris Grayling. Analysis by the Labour Party reveals his bungling has cost the taxpayer and the economy £2.7 billion in political gaffes.

Among the damaging mistakes were £33million paid out to Eurotunnel to settle a lawsuit over extra ferry services in the event of no-deal Brexit. £2 billion was lost with the collapse of Virgin Trains’ east coast franchise and £38m was the cost to the economy in the north of England due to the rail chaos in July 2018. Chris Grayling’s conduct as a minister is one of serial failure and routine incompetence. In any other sphere of life he would have been sacked.

This trail of destruction has gone on long enough. It’s time for Chris Grayling and this Government to go.