Lewis Herbert on George Osborne’s spending cuts

lewis_herbert09:26 Friday 5th June 2015
BBC Radio Cambridgeshire

LEWIS HERBERT: I don’t think we’ve heard the worst of it. We’ve basically lost about half of our core Government grant. So we spend about £30 million. We used to get about £10 million. We’re under £5 million in grant now. We are making considerable service efficiencies, working with South Cambridgeshire, changing the way we deliver services, protecting those who need our help the most. The biggest concern is probably for the County Council. I think some of their expenditure cuts are going to be far worse.

We’ve been working on this for five years. So it’s like another five year prison stretch for local government. We’ve already survived five. It’s not simple, and I’m not sure we’re going to survive the next five. I think the worst of it is still to come. Concerned that the Chancellor will save up some of the pain for when he has a Budget Statement in July. We’re a growing economy. We’re a £12 billion a year turnover place. We create more wealth for the Treasury than they put into Cambridge. We’ve got a bigger population. It’s crazy to cut budgets like transport, because we need improved transport, we need more homes for rent.

I don’t want my worst nightmares to come true, but I’m concerned and fearful that we’re just going to lose all our grant. And it’s not a fair system. Cambridge schools are underfunded. It’s a completely rough and rude system which just gives money to different areas. And under the last five years more money went to Surrey and to richer areas and less money went to places that really need it. And I’m as concerned about the communities of North Cambridgeshire like Wisbech and Whittlesea as I am about the disadvantaged parts of Cambridge which need help.

We wouldn’t be doing the job unless we thought we could manage almost irrespective of how nasty a Government we had. I can’t predict the future. The problem is that it’s counterproductive for the Government. We end up not being able to support a growing economy in Cambridge which pays billions over time into the tax revenues. So I would say that we will never give in, because we’re there to protect services. Residents vote us in. Residents pay their council tax to get the streets cleaned, to get the services. So we will continue to work. We’ve got a very productive relationship with South Cambridgeshire. We can do things differently. We can be more efficient. We’re not a poor city in the sense that we are generating income in different ways.

We’re not a poor country. No-one’s knocking on the door saying balance the books by 2020. George Osborne said he would sort all of that out by 2015 if you remember. Everybody was promised in 2010 that it would all be sorted out in five years. There isn’t a timetable for sorting it out. We produce the wealth. I just come back to the point that an area like Cambridge or Peterborough, we’re net contributors to the economy. If we don’t have the money to provide transport and to deal with the services for a growing population, the Treasury loses in the end. Some of these cuts could actually damage the UK, damage how much money George Osborne’s getting.

They’re cutting a lot of the support like tax credits. A lot of people in Cambridge don’t get the Living Wage. They cut the tax credits, and as a result more County Council help has to go into help people. We have to help people more with housing. It’s not joined up, and if he actually just had a conversation with councils, then I think we would come up with better ways to do things. Slash and burn is not going to help Cambridge or Peterborough.

There’s a political narrative here. I think George Osborne wants to put a tourniquet on the public services, because he doesn’t believe in them. So he actually wants to take Britain further than it needs to go. And I also come back particularly in the Cambridge and Cambridgeshire context that any sensible company invests, invests both in infrastructure, but also invests in looking after our older people. And I think the cuts are being taken too far. So yes, we’ve had debts since the Napoleonic Wars. We borrow money. But we are a rich country, and we can afford to do it. We wouldn’t be able to build new housing if councils and others weren’t able to take out a mortgage. So it was a choice. The public, on a very small margin, got a Tory government. We got five years. We’ve got to make sure public services survive them.