The impact of 13 long years of austerity has been highlighted in the past few weeks by the RAAC crisis – schools, hospitals, and other public buildings at risk of collapse. The infrastructure of this country is literally crumbling around us.
As far as we are aware at the time of writing no Bedford Borough-run schools are affected, although the council is carrying out further checks to make sure the information supplied by the Department for Education is correct.
This Government should explain why it has taken until now to act on RAAC, despite receiving warnings about this problem from the Local Government Association, Labour Councils, and the Labour Party several years ago.
One of the first things the coalition Government did in 2010 was to scrap the plans the previous Labour Government had put in place to rebuild many schools throughout the country, a dreadful, unwise decision made by Michael Gove, a man who still has influence at the heart of this rotten government.
The project would have cost £55bn, but the cost of dealing with this crisis now will far outstrip that. The potential disruption to our children’s education could have been avoided by going ahead with an organised programme of construction and refurbishment.
Austerity was always a Tory excuse to reduce the public sector at the heart of our communities and we are now, sadly, facing the true cost of this.
To keep public services running you need steady investment to renew and replace infrastructure. It’s evident from the outrageous pollution allowed in our rivers and on the coast that the water companies have prioritised dividends to shareholders over protecting our environment.
Not investing in schools and hospitals – the often repeated “40 new hospitals” is a blatant lie – is now causing acute problems which will cost more to redress than a planned series of renewals and rebuilding would have done.
Local authorities have three main sources of funding – central government grants, business rates and council tax.
Councils have faced drastic cuts in their grant from a succession of Coalition and Conservative Governments. Belatedly they have been allocated more money just to stop services falling over completely, but there have been calls for some time for the government to re-examine the way that councils are funded.
It is difficult to invest in and procure services effectively with best value when we have no idea what funding will be allocated.
In the 2021 spending review, councils were set funding levels up until April 2025. We can only hope by that time we will have a new, Labour-led Central Government with the foresight to think and plan for the long-term future of our country, but they will have a dreadful mess to clear up, after years of Conservative neglect.
Sadly we face another year of this ineffective, indecisive Tory Government, happy to let our children and communities suffer underinvestment in public services they should be able to rely upon.
This is a monthly guest column provided by Cllr Carl Meader,
leader of the Bedford Labour Group.
It is published unedited and does not reflect the views of the Bedford Independent.