Austerity, outsourcing and English councils in crisis | Letters

Thatcherite ideology, incompetence and the abolition of the Audit Commission have all contributed to local government failures, readers suggest. But there’s good news from the London borough of Haringey

Aditya Chakrabortty’s excellent piece (The councils that embraced austerity will cost us all dear, 13 August) builds on an earlier one by Patrick Butler, who pointed out in 2012: “Outsourcing a local authority in its entirety is a long-held Tory municipal fantasy, first articulated by Margaret Thatcher’s local government minister Nick Ridley in the late 1980s.” Large Tory-run authorities in Cornwall, Suffolk and Barnet had “embarked on their own high-profile versions of the Ridley model, claiming that impoverishment gave them no choice but to pursue large-scale privatisation”.

However, the idea of smashing up and reshaping the public sector had its roots in Tory thinking well before Cameron and May or even the late 1980s. Ridley, appointed by Thatcher “to head a policy group on the nationalised industries” in 1975, had chaired a similar group under Ted Heath in the late 1960s which concluded that there was “a very strong case for embarking on a course of gradually dismantling the public sector”.
David Murray
Wallington, Surrey

• Patrick Butler’s analysis of the budget crisis in Northamptonshire is spot on (Northamptonshire councillors vote to approve radical cuts, 9 August). Whatever the arguments that the situation is symptomatic of wider problems with local government finance, it is the legacy of years of poor practice, mismanagement and a failure of governance. The council asserts that it will meet its statutory duties, but for anyone needing its services, the idea that eligibility has not already been tightened to all but those in greatest need will ring hollow.

There is local anger, and rightly so, but there is also real fear and distress. The government will not rescue the council, but it should not leave the most frail and vulnerable citizens to pay the price of its failure.
Melanie Henwood
Hartwell, Northamptonshire

• Aditya Chakrabortty left out Cornwall, but that doesn’t mean all is well here. The council is paying £1m a week to service a debt of more than £2bn. In the circumstances it is amazing that it can subsidise a spaceport near Newquay for Richard Branson and shell out a down-payment of £250,000 for a firm of consultants to find new ways of sacking care workers.
Philip Kerridge
Bodmin, Cornwall

• Once there were district auditors for local government. One even saw Dame Shirley Porter off after the Westminster homes-for-votes scandal of the 1980s. Now that the matter has been outsourced , what hope is there that anybody will be properly punished for wasting vast amounts of money better spent on supporting those in need? Can we arraign Sir Eric Pickles for letting these incompetent Tories off the hook?
David Critchard
Heavitree, Exeter

• As a teenager in Liverpool, where my mother was a city councillor, I went canvassing with another Labour councillor, Hugh Carr, who would never refer to his opponent as a Conservative. “Bob, he’s a Tory. ‘Tory’ is an Irish word. It means ‘robber, plunderer’: and we don’t want these robbers and plunderers running our city.”

Aditya Chakrabortty’s piece would seem to indicate that this usage is appropriate today.
Bob Gough

• On 14 August the London borough of Haringey cabinet will decide to consult about ending the imposition of council tax against working-age benefit claimants with children, something we have been campaigning for since 2012. It is a small but vital start to reversing the ravages of austerity. Before April 2013 jobseeker’s allowance was supported by 100% council tax and housing benefits. Since then universal credit pays a proportion of rent and council tax plus enforcement costs, but can be stopped for three months with a benefit sanction by the jobcentres, with little care and attention to the circumstances of the claimants.
Rev Paul Nicolson
Taxpayers Against Poverty

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