In Britain ministers have an unwholesome habit of turning on public officials and others who draw attention to the inevitably negative impact of funding cuts. “Just get on with the job and stop behaving like wimps” appears to be their knee-jerk-response.
Only the other day our Home Secretary, Amber Rudd, was caught lambasting police chiefs for their whingeing about swingeing cuts and for daring to point out that these coincide with rising crime and increased public demand. The Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Cressida Dick, was unrestrained in condemning the funding squeeze faced by her force, an “incredibly demanding” £400m more in annual savings on top of the £600m a year of cuts already made. But her pleas fell on Amber Rudd’s deaf ears. The Home Secretary wants no coming-the-old-soldier or shroud-waving on her watch.
Having tried to pretend for many years that child protection in the UK is immune from funding cuts, I dare say that the government wants to hear no more from organisations like the National Children’s Bureau, which has had the temerity to conduct very useful research showing the scale and impact of cuts on children’s services. Forty percent of local authorities are reported as being unable to meet their statutory duties.
The problem, of course, is not just restrictions on cash budgets, but rising demand. Children’s minister, Robert Goodwill, naively points to what he calls increased spending, but fails to set this against unprecedented high levels of demand. He fails to remember that you don’t get ‘owt’ for ‘nowt’, as they say in his native Yorkshire.
In a post last year, I drew attention to the impact this sort of thinking had had on services in Louisiana, where year after year of cuts and squeezes had emaciated services. Now the same is happening here.
What ministers don’t realise, or don't want to admit, when it comes to cutting is that services don’t become more efficient simply because you give them less money. Usually they just shrink. Services can become more efficient and so require less funding, but that doesn’t happen by fiat. It needs to be planned for and carefully engineered.
Penny-pinching usually has only seriously negative consequences. The likes of Mrs. Rudd and Mr. Goodwill need to take note.