This week sees one of the most significant events of the Parliamentary year. Whilst the State Opening of Parliament presents details of the coming year’s legislative agenda with impressive pomp and ceremony, the annual budget statement lacks flamboyance.
Due to print deadlines and the few days it takes to dig through the fine detail, I shall reserve my comments on this year’s budget until next week’s column. After all, it is usually the weekend press that really digs into the weeds. That said, of course, we do know that this budget is being delivered in the context of the worse fiscal position a government has seen since the Great Frost of 1709.
It is not just governments that set budgets. Local councils also have to set their spending ambitions. This week, Wyre Forest District Council set its annual budget after an abortive attempt last week, when councillors failed to reach a decision.
Our local council is in a difficult political state. The elections for all 33 of our ward representatives happened in the heat of the Brexit bust up, at the moment when Theresa May took us to the Euro polls, having failed to secure any sort of agreement on EU withdrawal. The result for us here was a council with no overall control by any political party.
The solution was an alliance of councillors, joining together to form a strange coalition. But inevitably, differences of opinions mean these alliances fail. Some councillors have been sacked from the group, whilst others leave voluntarily. Some defect from the party who’s manifesto they stood on to join others (a surprisingly unpopular move with voters, in my experience).
Whilst all this may seem like the more tedious end of local politics, it makes a difference to all of us. The outcome of the budget is an increase in council tax, aligned to a cut in services. Choices have been made that do not reflect the difficult position that many residents in Wyre Forest find themselves – public servants on a pay freeze, others furloughed, yet more unemployed.
The council has done one thing good, though, but badly. There is to be a review of the management to see if your money is being well spent. But it is being done by the same management being reviewed.
Elections for WFDC will be held in 2023. Hopefully we will get clarity then.