Soapbox Sarah Russell: Government localism means tidying up a financial mess
WHEN the Government talked about localism, the implication was that it meant giving people and organisations the choice about how to run services in their communities.
Sadly, the reality has been quite different. Nothing exposes that better than the council tax local support scheme.
I have no issue with the city council taking responsibility for the provision of council tax support. Far from it, I would much prefer decisions about supporting Derby's most vulnerable to be taken by a Labour council here rather than a Tory-led Government.
What I object to, though, is the poisoned chalice that Derby City Council, and every other local authority in England and Wales, has been handed.
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The Government took the budget it spent on council tax support in Derby for 2012-13, sliced 10% from it, and then passed the buck for us to sort out the sorry mess.
So the Treasury pockets the savings and instructs councils to do the dirty work. But let's not be under any illusion – these cuts were created in Whitehall.
In these times of cuts, it is bad enough having to make difficult decisions.
But at least we can normally comfort ourselves, and Derby's residents, with the knowledge that we have had to make a decision on the grounds of priority, that a service cut in one area has saved another elsewhere.
That comfort does not exist with the council tax support scheme. We can't reflect on the 10% saving to the budget because it was not Derby's saving to start with.
The axed budget was handed down as a fait accompli. Derby people pay the price for this Government cut but see no benefit.
It's about as far away from true localism as you can imagine. We have worked hard to try to make the scheme as fair as possible under the circumstances.
We could not right the Government's wrong but we could try to ensure the imposition of the cut, which pensioners are exempt from, was as equitable and consistent as it could be for working age households.
That has been achieved, and as much has been done as possible by the council to make the imposition of the Government's cut as painless as it can be.
But we should not kid ourselves that we ever had the power to cover all the cracks this disastrous Tory scheme has created.