Sheffield Council needs to think of “smart and creative ways” to make savings as austerity continues to slice through services, says an economic expert.
Miatta Fahnbulleh, chief executive of the New Economics Foundation, says council services have been cut “down to the bone” after nine years of austerity.
She believes people in Sheffield are facing a tougher time than in the 1980s and that communities are struggling after facing severe cuts for almost a decade.
“Austerity was supposed to end in 2015 but four years later, the worst of it has yet to filter through the system,” said Miatta.
“We see in all the polling that public appetite has changed. People were grudgingly accepting of it at first but now communities have felt the impact for a long time.
“It’s tough. These cuts are down to the bone and the council is firefighting. It’s grim and there is no way to sugar coat that.
“It is a really tough backdrop and there are high expectations and a responsibility to help these communities at the sharp end. There is a duty of care to them and the Government has evacuated that space.
“During the Thatcher years we didn’t have such a prolonged period of austerity against the longest period of wage stagnation.
“People’s pay packets are not improving. In Sheffield there’s been an increase in wages but from quite a low base and for huge swathes of the population they are not feeling it. Prices are also going up.
“Austerity is the cruellest possible thing at the worst possible time.”
Miatta says there are some things the council can do to find other sources of funding.
“With the investments we do have, how do we make them work the best we can and think smarter and more creatively?
“There’s a handful of things we can do. The first is being very clear about what a strong local economy looks like.
“Pursuing economic growth is important but doesn’t lead to improvements in living standards and we need to look at economic and social outcomes.
“The second thing we can do is tap into small businesses and community enterprises which are a huge provider of jobs but not are not part of the conversation around the economic strategy.
“By not engaging with them, we have missed the opportunity to tap into their assets and we often don’t see them as part of the growth.
“You can tap into a huge amount of resources in small and medium businesses and they are often part of the local area and working for the good of the community.”
The council is already looking at working closer with NHS partners to improve services and share costs and Miatta says this is another way to unlock funding.
“The council needs to map money flows, like investment coming in to the NHS and universities.
“Even with austerity there’s investment in public institutions and also in the private sector. It’s about understanding this money to make the most of it.
“If these investments are coming through, we need to be strategic and ensure it’s going to things that will provide jobs and opportunities for local people.”