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Tory Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson posted his petition to Twitter, along with a caption saying how apparently ‘concerned’ he was that Staffordshire County Council would no longer be running a number of bus services:
Concerned that Staffordshire County Council will no longer be supporting a number of bus services in #SouthStaffordshire. I have created a petition in response to this which I encourage you to sign.
— Gavin Williamson (@GavinWilliamson) March 7, 2018
Unsurprisingly, just a brief glance at the ratio indicates that his petition was not exactly warmly received by the Twittersphere:
The top reply to Williamson’s petition pretty much summed up the ridiculous hypocrisy of the situation:
Oh for FFS. Make the connection . Its called austerity. Up and down the land councils of all political hues are having to do the same because of Tory Central Government policy. I've worked in local government for 3 decades. We 're now down to bare bones & statutory services only
— timdredge1 (@timdredge1) March 7, 2018
Whilst many others rightly ripped the p*ss out of the situation:
Tbf, he hasn't just created a petition, he's added a creepy photo to it.
— Lola Sparkes (@LeilaSouthern) March 7, 2018
You should write a robust letter of complaint to your MP.
— Mr King (@1963JFK) March 7, 2018
Could this be due to a 40% reduction in funding by @Conservatives government per chance? Wild guess and all that.
— Andrew Harries. When will there be good news? (@AndrewCHarries) March 7, 2018
Why don't you give the bus services the £30,000 you got for wining and dining that bloke from the Kremlin recently?
— Dale E. Express #FBPE #RestoreHope (@DaleExpress666) March 7, 2018
And the ridiculous disjointedness of the Conservative Government has not escaped the scrutiny of the media elite either:
I always think there is something slightly surreal about powerful members of the Conservative cabinet asking voters to sign a petition criticising a Tory county council. It is almost as though they see no link between government funding and local government services! https://t.co/mQHBsm9VKy
— Robert Peston (@Peston) March 7, 2018
And, as ever, Another Angry Voice was on hand to speak truth to power:
Instead of setting up impotent petitions, how about you put pressure on your government colleagues to end their fixation with ruinous hard-right austerity dogma, and reverse the massive local government funding cuts since 2010?https://t.co/2LIqYsypau pic.twitter.com/zmI6dA8s9q
— Another Angry Voice (@Angry_Voice) March 8, 2018
Due to council funding cuts, Staffordshire County Council has been forced to cut its bus subsidy by £1.4m, which is set to affect 2,500 bus users. The only options left open to those scheduled bus services will be to simply disappear into the hurling void already filled by the hollow echoes of myriad other public services that fell foul of this Government, or to be run as commercial services.
And now a Tory Cabinet member has been reduced to starting an online petition to fight back against the very barbarism of his own party’s policies. In doing so, he has inadvertently revealed the damage his party is doing.
The news comes on the same day as a damning National Audit Office (NAO) report has revealed that, overall, the Conservatives have slashed local council funding by 50%.
Indeed, spending on services has dropped by 32.6% since 2010. 52.8% less has been spent on planning and development, and there has been a 31.7% drop in spending on highways and road maintenance.
At the same time, people are living longer, increasing the burden of dependents on the very services buckling under the weight of cost-pressures. As funding drops, requirements rise.
The result is that 33.7% less households have their waste collected weekly and there is a 10.3% drop in the number of libraries.
Importantly, social services account for around 54.4% of local authorities’ total spend, which constitutes a rise from 2010 levels. At the same time, funding for such has decreased by 3%.
The head of the NAO, Amyas Morse, said:
Current funding for local authorities is characterised by one off and short-term fixes, many of which come with centrally driven conditions […] This restricts the capacity of local authorities and yet the weight of responsibility to respond to increased demand and maintain services remains very much on their shoulders. [Governments risk] sleep walking into a centralised local authority financial system
The NAO report went so far as to indict the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government by stating that it doesn’t have a “single view of how funding cuts are impacting the whole of local authority services”.
The report also suggests that many more councils are set to follow the path set by Northamptonshire County Council in essentially going bankruptcy.
The numbers are revealing, and scary. What they show is that funding cuts eventually come for everyone. First it was the poor and the disabled, but we were not poor and disabled. Now, it is middle England, as ‘invisible’ services – those that simply occur day-to-day and allow the cogs of our life to carry on spinning – start to invisibly disappear.
This is the bite that follows austerity’s bark. Perhaps now it may mean that people will finally begin to realise the virus that the Tories have unleashed into the DNA of our infrastructure.
Certainly, it seems, Gavin Williamson has. Although he may not know it yet.
There really is certainly something slightly poignant about a Tory Minister running petitions to try and undo that damage wrought by his own party.
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