One tell-tale sign that politicians are starting to wobble is when their public utterances diverge from reality, not just slightly, but so obviously as to make that divergence clear to all. Thus it was yesterday with Communities Secretary Eric Pickles, that champion of elective circumferential challengement so popular from his fortunately brief reign over Bradford Metropolitan District Council that he now sits for the well known Yorkshire constituency of Brentwood and Ongar.
Fat Eric is, in the words of the Guardian, “under fire from councils of all political hues”, which means his imposition of spending cuts has annoyed plenty of Tory and Lib Dem councils, as well as Labour ones. So how has he responded to the fire projected in his direction?
Well, back in December he told that councils should dip into their estimated ten billions’ worth of reserves, but was then slapped down by the head of the Local Government Association, who reminded Fat Eric that the money in reserve was not only there for a purpose, but could only be spent once – it could never become a substitute for current funding streams.
Yesterday, Pickles went one better, suggesting that local Government was somehow responsible for the UK’s budget deficit, and that “Local Government is a massive part of public expenditure”. It is? So just how massive a part of that expenditure is it?
Taking the 2010 figures, estimated total public spending comes out at 661 billion. Of this, local Government is 173 billion. However, assuming the cake cuts up in similar proportions to the 2012 figures, that 173 billion includes around 80 billion for Education, leaving 93 billion for everything else – including the Fire service, and policing. And that’s for the whole of the UK.
Alongside this is the figure for net public debt, of 772 billions, estimated to rise to 932 billion in 2011. The cost of local Government is estimated to rise by just seven billion to 180 billion. That means the local Government share of increased net public debt is under 4.5%.
Which suggests that Fat Eric is having trouble accurately defining the term “massive”.