WEEKENDER: Cuts will mean more than just 'lights out'
3:02pm Saturday 28th September 2013 in News
DOOM, gloom and dire predictions abounded this week concerning the future of our public services.
The Institute of Fiscal Studies, one of the UK’s seemingly endless supply of ‘leading’ think tanks, has warned that up to £1.5 billion could be cut from the Welsh Government’s budget during the next four years.
Meanwhile, Newport and other councils across Wales are trying to kick start debates with the people they serve about what the service priorities should be over the next few years, given that millions of pounds of savings will have to be made.
And NHS bosses in Gwent have published estimates of how much a fundamental revamp of staff pay and working conditions - which would require changes to national agreements - might contribute toward the task of saving £150m in the next three years.
The latter, if it ever came to pass, would involve an unpalatable combination of longer working weeks, fewer holidays, and cuts in unsociable hours payments and sick pay.
The latter too, is unusual in being upfront about the changes, however distant a prospect they may be, that might have to be considered - along with major reorganisation of services - in order to begin to approach the sort of savings that will have to be made to balance ever tighter budgets.
Austerity has become a way of life during the last half-decade, but the term seems to be on everyone’s lips at the moment. Must be party conference season...
The majority of people have been cutting back on spending on recent times, mirroring government policy.
But we are in for another four years at least of George Osborne’s low spend diet and in the continuing absence of a debate about what exactly should be cut or reduced, it is easy to come up with one’s own nightmare scenarios.
Taking the dog for a late evening stroll this week, I have been confronted with the reality of the rationing of street lighting, which has meant large sections of the streets in my neighbourhood being plunged into darkness.
This has been the case for some time, in the face of cutbacks that have seen every other, or every third street light switched off, and reduced hours for those that remain lit.
But councils cannot just keep switching the things off, eventually leaving no lights on in order to save another couple of hundred thousand pounds a year.
Can they? I don’t know.
Most of the organisations that are issuing gloomy pronouncements about the future of services are not providing us with concrete examples of what might be cut, however extreme those cuts might be, and how much money these measures would save.
I may be in a minority, but I would quite like to know, just out of curiosity, how much a year would be saved by, for instance, closing all our leisure centres and/or libraries for one, two or three days a week, or not repairing or remarking roads for six months.
These might be extreme examples, but to hear the think tanks and councils speak, these are extreme financial times.
Lots of our councils for instance, are talking about the need to do things differently. What does that mean? It would help to use practical examples, just by way of illustration, so we can see just what sort of decisions might have to be considered, however difficult.
As is often the case in times of austerity, culture, the arts and sport are usually in the firing line, as these have traditionally been seen as services that are not essential.
There has been much spirited debate in recent weeks about the fate of Newport’s Chartist Mural, just as there has been about moving the museum and library into the Newport Centre and closing the existing building.
Warning: There will be plenty more debates to be had about this sort of thing in the next three or four years, and leisure centre users had better keep their wits about them too.
If the Institute of Fiscal Studies - which seems to delight in portraying a world in which it rains from under everyone’s umbrellas - is right, we are in for a very bumpy ride indeed.
If there is any public transport left in which to get a ride, that is.
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