Gremlins at the Leveller®
Regular readers of the Leveller® will know that each month we invite four columnists from different parties to opine. We set a question for all of them and ask for a response in a fixed number of words to the question. The idea being to highlight similarities and differences between the political parties working in Somerset.
That at least is the theory. Where it unwinds is when gremlins get into our own system. It was either that or our own incompetence that resulted in a mishap in our April edition. The Green Party’s Martin Dimery duly submitted his column. It was to answer the question: “thinking only about how it will impact on our new Somerset Council, can you give us your opinion of the budget? What did the Chancellor get righ, what did he get wrong?“
Unfortunately what we got wrong was to publish Mr Dimery’s answer to March’s question again. As he took the trouble to write a response, it is only fair that we should publish it.
This is what he said:
The recent budget reminded me of the old adage about re-shuffling the deck chairs on the Titanic.
Jeremy Hunt presented the budget very much as the conductor of the sinking ship’s orchestra, while the brass section behind him did their best to mask the sound of the iron crashing calamitously with ice.
Hunt’s calm cantata was intended to sooth the listener following a programme comprising Truss and Kwarteng’s “Deliver and Destroy” Symphony; the big Covid PPE Concerto (Opus 19); Johnson’s “Oven Ready” Opera; the HS2 Railway Blues, and an Eagles- inspired concept album- “Hotel Rwanda”, in which the protagonists can “check out anytime” …but they “can never leave.”
In terms of local authority spending, I am invited to identify the good and the bad elements: Scraping the rum barrel for the positives, I’d commend the increase in both employment and childcare support which acknowledges the UK’s current understaffing crisis. Now that we’ve encouraged our European passengers to take the lifeboats back home, many of the vacancies are in the local government sector, notably in care, social services, teaching and administration.
There were also incentives to improve local leisure facilities and swimming pools. Many of our local sports centres have suffered from a lack of investment due to councils having to prioritise elsewhere. This may partially help to counteract the lack of funding for Public Health. There was also a useful consideration given to the upkeep of council run roads. Potholes are not only dangerous but, if left, will cause an accumulation of damage.
To counter those improvements however, there was no extra funding for social care, which is our worryingly massive challenge going forward, due to the demands of an ageing population. Children’s services were overlooked as was additional funding for Special Educational Needs and Disabilities. These constitute a massive part of the Somerset Council’s budget. The pension reforms turned out to be nothing more than a big incentive for the wealthy. The Government strategy of “Levelling Up” is to re-paint the liner’s ballroom whilst leaving holes in the hull.
To take the volume of traffic off our pot-holed highways, the government needs much greater subsidy for public transport. The CBI agrees with the Green Party that tax incentives are needed to expand the green economy, including community ownership of onshore renewables. There was nothing in the budget for environmental measures or green initiatives, and no wind fall tax on the energy companies who have profiteered on the recent crisis, whilst simultaneously destroying the planet.
The UK’s finances might be floundering in the ocean but tapping into the billions those Tory donors and multi-nationals have stashed offshore, might just help keep HMS Somerset off the rocks.
You can read the responses of our Labour, LibDem and Conservative commentators in the hard copy edition of the Leveller® for April. And our profuse apologies to Martin Dimery for our error.