In George Orwell’s 1984, one of the ways the fictional totalitarian government controlled the British people was through ‘new-speak’, an approved version of the English language where the meanings of words were subject to constant change to manipulate the ways people thought about issues. I’m reminded of this every time I hear a government funding announcement, where for years the careful choice of words has not only managed to suggest public service cuts weren’t happening, but that some were receiving record funding.
Using such tightly-worded statements you can make a statement which is technically true, but which in no way relates to the meaning you want the public will take from it. Talk to anyone running services in any part of the public sector and you will find that the reality on the ground rarely reflects the statements made in the House of Commons.
One of the worst examples of this is the government’s claim it has increased the ‘core spending power’ of councils and the police, because it doesn’t actually mean they’re increasing funding–in fact, they could be cutting it. It actually means that so long as these services increase your council tax by the maximum amount they would have more ‘cash’. The reality is they often have to increase it by the maximum amount just to cover inflation, as the value of cash decreases every year.
Furthermore, these figures relate to the sector as a whole, not individual councils. So, while West Sussex County Council are permitted to increase your council tax by 5%, Crawley Borough Council is limited to a 2% increase. In a normal year this would be hard enough, but with the council’s other main sources of funding decimated by the government’s COVID-19 restrictions, that increase in ‘core spending power’ means that even with a 2% increase in council tax, Crawley has to cut over £2m from the budget, right when people need services the most.
Before the Conservatives entered government, Crawley had net revenue expenditure of £27m, today it’s just £12m, ignoring over a decade of inflation. If things continue, even basic services will have to go.