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For local government, austerity is far from over

After Philip Hammond used his speech to the Tory Conference to announce that plans to eliminate the deficit by 2020 would be abandoned, there has been lots of talk about it marking the end of austerity. 

But while the rhetoric may have shifted, for local government, already hit incredibly hard by cuts in funding over the last six years, austerity is far from over.

In Lambeth, our budget has already been reduced by 56% since 2010 and we are having to take even more money out over the next three years. The taps are very definitely not being turned back on.  

In February the Government announced a new longer-term financial settlement for councils. What this means for Lambeth is we must reduce our already stretched budget by a further £55m over the next three years. To put that in context, that’s more than we spend on waste collection, parks and community safety combined every year.

Further difficult decisions are unavoidable and the impact of austerity will continue to be felt long after George Osborne has left 11 Downing Street.

It’s not just on the economy where Tory rhetoric jars with the reality. We can see it too in the Government’s plans to re-introduce grammar schools. Theresa May has pledged to create a country that works for everyone. Yet, report after report shows that grammars do not boost social mobility and actually widen the gap between rich and poor.

The incredible improvement in Lambeth’s schools over recent years has seen children from all backgrounds go on to get good quality apprenticeships, places at top universities and skilled jobs -transforming their life chances in the process. We’ve done this without the help of grammars and we will fight to keep it this way.

I won’t be alone in being deeply concerned by the post-Brexit hardening (and coarsening) of rhetoric on immigration. Our borough is proudly open and outward looking. There are 40,000 EU-born residents living here and they make a huge contribution; economically, socially and culturally. 

What message does it send to them when government ministers talk about forcing businesses to publish lists of the number of foreign employees, as Amber Rudd did this week? A quarter of doctors were born outside of this country and the NHS would collapse without foreign workers. The many foreign-born carers, teaching assistants, nurses and street sweepers who work hard, pay their taxes and make a contribution to our country should be thanked, not made to feel like they are a burden. 

As this week has shown, the nasty party is clearly not a thing of the past. The treatment of foreign workers, the crazy plans to reintroduce grammars and the false talk of austerity being over shows there is now a deficit of a different kind - between the government’s words and actions. 

Cllr Lib Peck, Leader of Lambeth Council

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