Councils innovate as continued austerity cuts create new challenges

The public sector could have been forgiven for believing Christmas had come early this year when the Conservative party used conference season to announce an end to austerity.

Monday, 17th December 2018, 4:47 pm
Updated Monday, 17th December 2018, 4:53 pm
Rotherham Town Hall
Rotherham Town Hall

As as society hurtled headlong into the festive season, the Government made the announcement those in charge of local authority finances had automatically suspected '“ that they will have little respite from the increasingly tight spending restrictions imposed since the coalition Government took charge almost a decade ago.

Looking in from my perspective, covering Barnsley and Rotherham Councils as well as the work of the county's Police and Crime Commissioner and Fire and Rescue Authority it isn't hard to detect a consistent pattern.

Efficiencies had been made and duplication reduced years before anyone came up with the idea of a network called the Local Democracy Reporting Service to monitor out public services.

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By the time I dropped into the role at the end of last winter, the public bodies I've mentioned were all progressing further into their financial winter.

One so severe it could still turn into an ice-age.

The political arguments about whether the country can afford the public services we'd all like to see, and how the money the Government does have should be divided up, are something to take place on a different level to the sphere that I cover.

My work is to report what those large, all encompassing, decisions mean to local authorities '“ and ultimately, real people '“ in Barnsley and Rotherham.

It can't be an easy era to be a politician at any level, but councils are now having to make decisions that will clearly affect the people they were elected to serve.

Residents are likely in 2019 to face the prospect of paying more through Council Tax to fund a police service which has been ravaged by cuts over a long period, for example.

If I suggested there was a silver lining to this, I'm sure I'd make more enemies than friends in South Yorkshire.

What I would suggest is that there is a determination to fight on a do the best possible despite the cuts, despite the challenges, despite the seemingly impossible tasks ahead.

If this were Narnia, you could be forgiven for thinking I'd been eating a press officer's Turkish delight.

Not so. The job of everyone in my role is to report facts, good or bad.

There's plenty of bad to report but here's a couple of examples of the good which will help the county to survive. South Yorkshire Police are recruiting new officers at a rate most people who work there won't be able to remember. Not down to extra money, but the way the force is organised and uses what it does have.

Barnsley and Rotherham are well on the way to regenerating their town centres, a task which shouldn't be under-estimated in these harsh economic times, but one that's vital to the future.

And the smaller stuff that affects people's everyday lives? Ask Barnsley Council about their success in getting people to quit smoking and making sure today's children never want to take up the habit.

Amid the gloom, there is good work being done.