Though it might rank as one of Britain's better-appointed public conveniences, with two attendants, a parents' rooms and oak doors leading to immaculate cubicles, the lavatory on the ground floor of the city's Town Hall Extension took on a sudden symbolic importance yesterday.Manchester residents will have nothing to go on!
Unlike six others in the city centre and a further 10 in the suburbs from Wythenshawe to Harpurhey, the facilities at Mount Street are soon to be the only council-funded public lavatories in Manchester – a grim survivor of the first round of government budget cuts.
Yet while the closure of toilets is by definition an inconvenience – up to 40 per cent of all surviving facilities have been closed by councils in the past decade – the terms being used to describe the other measures revealed by the Labour-led Manchester City Council yesterday were more visceral. "Savage" and "devastating" were the local headlines as the council wielded the axe on leisure centres, libraries, swimming pools, weekly bin collections and night-time street cleaning.All the things, you’ll note, that the public will notice. And blame the coalition for…
As it became one of the first big Labour-run cities to reveal the full details of its austerity plan, council leader Sir Richard Leese described the reduction in public funding – £110m cut from next year and a further £60m in 2012/13 – as the "worst since the war". Two thousand jobs are already due to go at the town hall, but it is elsewhere, in some of the most deprived areas of the city, where the burden will be shared.The poor worst hit – it’s a ‘Guardian’ dream!
Sir Richard, first elected to the council in 1984, has lived through the years of rate capping under Margaret Thatcher and the cuts required to keep down the poll tax in the early 1990s, but he believes neither "were a patch" on the current situation in scale or speed of implementation.Worse than the hated Thatcher? Say it ain’t so!
If Manchester was expecting understanding from the Coalition, it was mistaken. Grant Shapps, Local Government minister, called for savings by greater sharing of back-office facilities and from copying "innovative" neighbouring councils such as Tory-run Trafford. "This is a cynical move by a Labour council, which is intentionally cutting frontline services and playing politics with people's lives. It's Labour politicians that are in denial about the financial mess left by the last government, and they have clearly failed to prepare for the inevitable reductions in public spending as a result of Labour's budget deficit," he said.Boo! Hiss! Eeeeeeevil Tories!
Of course, there’s one area where Manchester Council definitely won’t be making any savings:
Only one Greater Manchester council has plans in place to cut its chief executive’s pay – as town halls slash spending by £500m.Heh! Try and lay the blame for that on the coalition, Sir Dick!
As the region’s 10 councils prepare to shed thousands of jobs, only one has any firm plans to hit its boss in the pocket.
Manchester council leader Sir Richard Leese said: "For Manchester to successfully get through this era of unprecedented public spending cuts we need motivated staff delivering service efficiently and effectively.You mean, like cutting all but one of the public loos?
"Cutting salaries is not the way to achieve this and this is really nothing more than a gimmick to deflect attention away from the sheer scale of the cuts."
All Greater Manchester’s town hall bosses earn more than David Cameron’s £142,500 salary.Alternatively, perhaps Simon Jenkins has an answer?
A core feature of modern British government is that those who grab power to win credit in good times will win blame in bad ones. What is odd is that Cameron and his colleagues refuse to accept the converse. If they shed responsibility, they can also shed blame.Excellent suggestion!
… the mess was caused by uncontrolled public spending and borrowing over the past decade. Even if Osborne goes the whole hog, spending will still be higher in five years' time than it was in 2000.Which is something that needs to be hammered home every single time someone wails about ‘cuts’…
… in refusing to leave councils free to ease cuts by raising taxes, the coalition has incurred a possibly lethal political price. It should relax the local tax cap introduced by Lady Thatcher in 1983 and let local taxes take some pressure off the cuts. If councils choose to sack staff, close libraries, shut toilets and slash services, it will be their decision and that of their voters. Cameron will be off the hook.Of course, some areas will still be solid blue, or solid red.
But that’ll be their choice, won’t it?