Another week and the latest cut- this time a threat to the Bridport Leisure Centre. This is just the latest in a line of cuts – most recently the Youth Service. I have the utmost sympathy with the officers of our local councils who are being to wrestle with impossible reductions in their funding.
Local government has in Britain delivered many of the services which really matter to us in our daily lives and make our communities civilised and supportive places to live. We all want high quality social care for vulnerable people, a system of public transport, parks, good leisure and culture facilities and so on. Whatever doubts one might have about its location the new waste disposal centre shows how proper investment can improve the quality of our local services.
What we are seeing in Dorset and across the country is vital services being lost or cut. This is a conscious choice by the Government. The argument that one of the world’s richest countries cannot afford to support local government does not stand up granted the fact the government is cutting taxes for the favoured few and turning a blind eye to tax avoidance. It will not be possible for local voluntary action groups to support all these services as one by one they are cut back. Vital services need professional leadership and proper levels of funding. If we wish to avoid the American way of ‘Private affluence; public squalor ‘we must persuade our Conservative local councillors to put pressure on central government to fund our local services adequately. In addition, we must pressure our MP who as Cameron’s policy advisor is behind this savage decimation of local government. We cannot simply react to each individual service that is threatened – we must ensure that a full range of local services remain available to all.
I notice from Oliver Letwin’s latest column (14 January) that he has, yet again, taken up a popular and non-controversial cause – that of “ensuring the long term future of Bridport Leisure Centre”. What he fails to mention is that his government’s policies are the principal cause for the reduction or withdrawal of funding by the local council for this, our Youth Centres, libraries and many other much-needed and valued local facilities. His apparent inability to make these links reminds me of David Cameron’s recent and almost unbelievable letter to his local council complaining about the reduction in various local services.
Letwin and Cameron are at the forefront of a government that is determined to reduce public spending and the public sector. They are pushing through ‘austerity’ policies that are dramatically and negatively affecting innumerable people’s lives in ways that are obvious to anybody who cares to notice, with ever more drastic cuts and closures taking place all over the country. It is truly shocking in a country that is still one of the richest in the world that we seem to have come to accept food banks as part of how it is. Child poverty is rising inexorably as many families struggle to feed, clothe and house themselves, even when they are in work. Inequality in income and in many other ways has increased dramatically in this country and is not being addressed in any serious way.
The reference to Oliver Letwin’s privileged background and education in my previous letter is entirely relevant when looking at how he has used his powerful and very influential position as an advisor within government over the years. Our MP may be popular with some, but he advocates austerity whilst being independently wealthy enough not to be affected by cuts to publicly funded educational facilities, libraries, health and social care, welfare and other essential support services. His hugely expensive private education and lengthy studies at Cambridge and Princeton Universities may well have benefited his academic intelligence but he shows little sign of using this to genuinely learn about the realities of life for people whose experiences, opportunities and needs have been very different to his own.
Many years ago Letwin wrote a book called “Privatising The World” and he has been advocating privatisation of various public services ever since, including and especially the NHS. In a speech in 2011 he said that public sector workers (including those in teaching and healthcare) need “real discipline and fear” of losing their jobs in order to produce innovation and excellence. At a fringe meeting at a Tory party conference in 2003, he was reported (by the Telegraph, so it must be true) as saying that he would “go out on the streets and beg” rather than send his children to the comprehensive school where he lives in London. He is someone whose view of the world has been shaped by a background of wealth and privilege and he serves in a Cabinet full of people like him, who seem to be able to learn the language of “we’re all in this together” but not what that actually means.