Largely unnoticed, there was a small but significant Lib Dem rebellion over cuts to local government last night. Party president Tim Farron, former defence minister Nick Harvey, Andrew George, Stephen Gilbert and Adrian Sanders all voted against this year's funding settlement.He goes on to quote Nick Harvey's speech in the debate:
The whole model of local Government funding is now so fundamentally broken that there needs to be a cross-party endeavour to rebuild something from scratch on a blank sheet of paper.Nick went on to say:
Devon county council is now consulting about a programme of cuts that will end all its non-statutory obligations: ending the subsidy on meals on wheels; closing its day centres; getting rid of all its residential care homes; axing mobile libraries and the smaller local libraries; and doing away with the youth service, except for young offenders. This will cause absolute fury on the part of voters. I do not think that it is acceptable.
We have people moving into our area who are aghast at the low level of public services that they find in comparison with other parts of the country that they have come from. This is just not acceptable. It cannot go on like this. I made a speech similar to this last year. I told Ministers that they needed to do something about it if they wanted my support in the Lobby. A year has gone by, they have done nothing about it and they will not have my support in the Lobby this evening.You can read his whole speech on They Work for You - which is a much better site than the Hansard one, incidentally. As Nick says, there is an element of cynical calculation here. The government hopes that is local authorities who will be blamed for these cuts.
Blogging about the proposal for a unitary council for Leicestershire the other day, I made similar points:
In pursuing austerity the Coalition has tended to protect central government programmes while hitting local spending hard - there is money for HS2 while local bus services are cut.
The danger is that local government services - and here the very structure of local government - will be damaged so severely that they will be impossible to repair when the public finances are healthy again.I think this is a huge problem for the Lib Dems. For as long as anyone can remember, we have presented ourselves as the champions of local government. Yet when given a chance of power we embrace a policy that sees local government funding slashed.
There is plenty about localism in the Coalition agreement: it is just that it has been ignored ever since.
As I have said before, that agreement reads more and more like the portrait of a government that Britain needed but did not get. The blame for this lies largely with David Cameron - too weak to take on his own backbenchers - but it is the Lib Dems who are being punished for it by the voters.