As MPs are sent off on an enforced five week holiday, only a week after their last one, Crawley Borough Council is hard at work doing what we can to keep services services going and to work out how, best as possible, to protect residents from the implications of Brexit.
This is extremely hard to do, in large part due to the Government being more focused on electioneering than governing right now. Having been on conference calls with ministers in the Home Office and DEFRA to discuss Brexit preparations, there is a complete lack of detail to help us to prepare. Much to the contrary, we are instead the ones being asked to tell the Government what the local impact will be of negotiations we play no part in and policies far more wide-ranging than local government. Ultimately, it is impossible to prepare for all the potential outcomes without clear national guidance.
When it comes to local services, things are little better. Under the Conservatives, Crawley Borough Council’s income roughly halved, this stopped when I became council leader due to Labour prioritising finding new sources of revenue to make up for what the Government was taking from Crawley, but every year we face fresh cuts.
The Spending Review was the Conservatives’ chance to put right the funding gap they had created, but the opportunity was missed. Despite the headlines, much of the money isn’t ‘new’ money but funding already in the system, and far less than what has been cut from our police, schools and other public services since 2010.
For councils, it turns out that much of the ‘improvement’ in our funding is actually to come from council tax increases, rather than the Government and that other funding streams are being closed at the same time others are opened. The one genuinely good bit of news was that the Government is delaying for a year their plan to take money from Crawley Borough Council and give it to West Sussex. Still, that gives us more time to find an alternative to cuts. If only the Government would do the same.