The axeman cometh
Eric Pickles loves nothing better than to cut things. Be it road signs, Chief Executives, Audit Commissions or local government targets his instinct is to cut first and ask questions later. A reformer or incrementalist our Mr Pickles is not.
So it was not surprising to hear that his commitment to wielding the axe had yielded him a place on the Government’s Star Chamber.
For the uninitiated, a place on the star chamber is a sign of two things: 1) That the Minister in question is seen as capable of giving their colleagues a challenging time over the cuts that they are proposing (or not proposing). 2) That they have already come to an agreement with the treasury detailing how much they will trim from their budget and where it will come from.
The fact that Mr Pickles is amongst the first two Ministers to graduate from grilled to griller can only fill those of us in Local Government with dread.
Here are my assumptions:
1) The departments had to put forward plans that would provide cuts of 25-40%. This was to provide flexibility allowing ‘needy’ departments to have lower cuts if higher cuts could be found elsewhere. Therefore, there is almost no chance that the cuts Mr Pickles only hit the 25% mark. We’re looking at 30% minimum
2) Far from being the avuncular old uncle Mr Pickles may have seemed at the outset he now seems to hold Local Government in barely concealed contempt.
3) Ian Duncan Smith went to the wall to defend the DWP. Mr Pickles did not.
If my assumptions are correct here is my question:
Why are frontline public services (as nearly all of local government is) seen as an ‘easy to cut’ department when in the DCLG and not when in health, education or welfare?
I would argue that there is a perception problem with local authorities; unfortunately it seems that the perception might just exist with Mr Pickles as well.