A surreal illustration depicting the UK shaped as a tangled web, representing the failing council services with frayed and broken strands, set against stormy clouds.

The UK is currently limping towards a General Election which, although it hasn’t been called yet, will probably be in October 2024. The past 14 years have absolutely decimated my country, with cuts to public services, a massive loss of trust in public officials, and spiraling inequality. The costs of Brexit cannot even be put into meaningful terms.

This article in The Guardian talks about the impact of Tory cuts to English councils, meaning that they have had to cut services. Some councils, either through bad luck, incompetence, or both, are in a really bad way. I wonder how much this will affect internal migration in the UK, as up here in Northumberland the NHS performs well, our bins are collected regularly, and the quality of life (I would say) is better.

Most of us now know the basics. In 2023, Birmingham city council – which is controlled by Labour, and is reckoned to be Europe’s largest local authority – effectively went bankrupt. There were three key reasons: massive cuts in funding from Whitehall, the cost of the belated resolution of the council’s gender pay gap, and the mind-boggling mishandling of a new IT system. In the midst of the rising need for council services – much of which was rooted in all the dislocation and disaster of the Covid crisis – all this spelled disaster. Now, many of the city’s services must be either hacked down or done away with, in pursuit of savings of about £300m over two years. As far as anyone understands it, this is the deepest programme of local cuts ever put through by a UK council.


Birmingham may be an outlier, but comparable stories are playing out all over England: in Nottingham, Somerset, Hampshire, Leicester, Bradford, Southampton and more. The House of Commons levelling up, housing and communities select committee puts English councils’ current financial gap at about £4bn a year, which could have been filled more than twice over by the money Jeremy Hunt used for that almost meaningless cut in national insurance. He seems to still think that councils must sink or swim: even more depressingly, he and his allies in the rightwing press have reprised old and stupid rhetoric about millions supposedly being wasted on “consultants” and “diversity schemes”.


Continuing austerity does not just kill people’s services; it has long since warped most political debates about what we should expect from the state. In lots of places, squalor, mess and festering social problems are now seen as the norm. So too is a scepticism about people’s need for help, which is endlessly encouraged by politicians and people in the media. That absurd opportunist Lee Anderson made his name by claiming that food banks were “abused” by people who didn’t need them. Now, the Times columnist Matthew Parris claims to “not believe in ADHD at all” and says that autism is “a much abused diagnosis”, while other voices insist that parents whose disabled children get some dependable help from their local councils are the possessors of “a golden ticket”. In both cases, the insidious process is much the same. First, services fail. Then, casting doubt on the resulting pain and letting the people responsible off the hook, there are loud suggestions that levels of need may not have been that great in the first place. As a result, austerity can be recast as efficiency, a move that always appeals to politicians, of whatever party.

Source: The Guardian