Over the last few weeks, councils have been putting together budgets that struggle with yet another round of severe cuts designed in Downing Street. As ever, the Tories cling to the gross deception that councils can somehow cut two thirds out of their budgets without affecting frontline services.
The Conservative promise to govern as 'One Nation' has never looked more hollow. They are governing like a reverse Robin Hood - taking from the poor to give to the rich. Between 2010 and 2020 this government will have slashed spending for the ten poorest communities 23 times more than the ten wealthiest.
The cuts are now going so deep even Tory areas have started to notice their libraries are closing and street lights are turning off. With a Tory backbench rebellion threatened last month, ministers found an extra £300million to ease the pain of cuts. But they didn't target it on areas that have had the deepest cuts - instead it went to buy off disgruntled Tories in areas that have suffered the least cuts.
A shocking 85% of the money went to better off areas run by the Tories, barely 5% of it to Labour-run areas. Leafy Surrey got £24million, while Liverpool, Newcastle and Birmingham got nothing at all. Tory MPs stood up in Parliament and wilfully admitted they'd fallen in line because of this naked political bung. It was a gross misuse of public money in pursuit of party political advantage.
I was a council leader under the previous Tory-led coalition government. What I learnt then remains true now: communities deserve better than this grubby system of funding stitch-ups.
It is Labour councils who are doing the most to protect frontline services, they are twice as likely to have kept youth centres open than Tory councils despite suffering far deeper funding cuts. But with cuts now so severe it's no longer possible to protect all the services people value.
Care for older and disabled people faces a funding shortfall of over £1billion by 2020 even after councils follow George Osborne's instruction to put council tax up by 20%. People will pay more but get less, and the Tories hope they will blame their councils rather than the Government responsible for what's happening.
George Osborne is driven by one thing: his ambition to succeed David Cameron as Tory leader. He's using public money to buy support from Tory MPs even if that means a full frontal political assault on the rest of the country. We've just seen £300m deployed for that purpose. In the next few weeks he'll be announcing his budget and there will be a new funding formula for schools. Watch out for more of the same - attacks on the many, pay-offs for the few, and as many political smokescreens as he can come up with to hide the fact he's sacrificing the decent communities of Britain on the altar of his own personal ambition.Suggest a correction