Spending review: Communities and culture take damage

By Peter Wozniak

Local government and the department of culture, media and sport are some of the biggest losers from the spending review, with 33% and 24% respectively by 2015.

Despite David Cameron’s Big Society rhetoric, cuts to Jeremy Hunt’s department will hit organisations delivering communities schemes.

The cuts total is stated as 15% for the entire department by 2015, though this is obscured by the fact that Olympics funding is protected. Other spending will see cuts of 24%.

The department was always in line for massive cuts after failing to spend its budget in 2008/09 by £115 million.

Government-funded sports, heritage and arts charities will be hit as a result.

Administration costs for the department have seen heavy cuts of 41%.

However, the culture, media and sport announcements were marked by some surprises. For “core” heritage projects and museums, the cuts will be limited to 15%.

Unexpectedly, free entrance for British museums and art galleries has survived the CSR process.

Also, £530 million has been earmarked for rolling out super-fast broadband services to two million households.

The main casualties seem to be the “arms-length bodies”. The bonfire of the quangos has seen organisations like the UK Film Council scrapped.

The Creative Partnerships programme has also been cut entirely, while the Arts Council of England has had its funding halved.

The S4C Welsh language channel meanwhile sees some of its funding responsibility transferred to the BBC.

Altogether 19 of the 55 public bodies that fall under Jeremy Hunt’s department will be either abolished, subsumed or reformed.

The £9.3 billion funding Olympics budget will be untouched, however.

Far more drastic cuts have been dealt to the department for communities and local government (DCLG).

Eric Pickles has been amongst the most enthusiastic of the Cabinet ministers in his pursuit of savings.

As expected, his department is one of the biggest casualties of the spending review, along with the welfare budget.

All told, the communities element of the department will be cut by 33%, while central government funding of local authorities will fall by 26% over the next four years.

Of the department’s funding, £1.6 billion will be devolved to the local government. Taking this into account, the cuts in the DCLG’s resource budget will actually approach 51%.

Almost all revenue grants to local councils will no longer be ringfenced and council tax benefit will fall by ten per cent, though the government claims it will be directed to “the most vulnerable”.

Some 17 quangos under the DCLG remit will be axed, including the Working Neighbourhoods Fund and Growth Area Funding.

Administration cutbacks of 42% are promised – which will almost certainly mean large-scale redundancies.

The fire service will be also be cut by 13%.

On the thorny issue of social housing, the government plans to fund the building of 150,000 new affordable homes during this parliament.

It will do this by ending the conditions of new tenants having a “council house for life” and raising rents to 80% of the market rate.

Existing tenants will not be affected by this, but the changes will prove deeply unpopular, especially with MPs in areas with large proportions of council housing.

Local authorities have long known they will have to be making drastic cuts in the coming years, but will have to wait a little longer for the full details of individual cutbacks. The local government settlement is expected to be published in December.

The drastic cuts in Eric Pickles’ department have been made harder after it committed to freezing council tax in England in 2011/12.

Its ministerial team has been among the most zealous in their pursuit of cuts, after publishing all spending over £500 and forcing councils to follow suit.

It has already received cuts of nearly £800 million in the £6 billion of savings immediately implemented by former Treasury chief secretary David Laws.