It is nearly 5 years since my boss came back from a budget meeting and said this level of cuts is no longer about reduced services it about a totally different county council. At the time most of us didn't believe it was possible to take nearly 50 percent out of the budget yet that is what happened. Libraries and day centres were closed, grants to voluntary groups were cut, services were out sourced, management posts were culled, staff were made redundant, wages were frozen, costs were shunted, partner agencies were antagonised, mergers were contemplated. People protested at the loss of their library, the reduction in their mothers home care and went to court to get a judicial review of plans to close elderly person homes but the cuts went ahead. The trade unions couldn't stop the out sourcing, redundancies or wage freeze but without them staff wouldn't have won any safe guards and been totally reliant on management for information. Councillors consulted the general public on which areas of services should be protected but in reality statutory responsibilities and the ring fencing of the schools budget left little room for manoeuvre, fortunately the public also thought child protection and vulnerable elderly people were the priority.
Despite the media's human interest stories and reports of hospitals beds blocked unless you were losing your job or had a disabled family member you probably didn't notice the difference. Most people are more aware of and more bothered about the problems in the NHS than they are with their local council. However it is no coincidence that the government has made money available for filling pot holes! Drivers notice pot holes.
It's clear from the chancellor’s autumn statement that things aren't going to get any better for local government. Even if there is a change of government the ring fencing of the schools budget and protected funding for the NHS ( all be it inadequate protection) presents a very bleak picture for local government. The difference is this time the general public will notice.
When the street lights don't come on, when the rubbish goes uncollected and the pot holes go unfilled people will notice.
But you can only see what's visible. The pupils taking food parcels home at the weekend, the disabled man in the wheelchair sitting in the cold because he can't afford to put the heating on, the homeless family living in one room " bed and breakfast", the unsupported carer sobbing quietly into her pillow, the elderly women lying in a soiled bed waiting for the over worked home help who is either too late or not coming at all. You can't see the misery that could be alleviated you can only see the uncollected rubbish, in the unlit streets and the pot holes.
Blair McPherson former director of community services www.blairmcpherson.co.uk