Careful council spending shouldn't only be the policy in the bad times

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All expenditure at Wolverhampton City Council will have to stop unless it is 'absolutely essential'. But wait a minute. Shouldn't all expenditure by any public body be 'absolutely essential' anyway?

After all, this is money gathered from the hard-pressed, cash-strapped people who go out to work in order to pay to put food on their families' tables and keep the roof over their heads.

Government grants, paid through taxation, and people's council tax bills go towards the costs of getting the bins emptied and looking after the elderly.

Now it appears there is a risk that the city council will not even be able to do that.

Over the course of a three-page statement on the parlous state of Wolverhampton City Council's accounts, the word 'government' appears eight times.

Councillor Andrew Johnson, the Labour cabinet member for resources is absolutely certain that the 'very deep and very fast' cuts he must now oversee are entirely the fault of the Coalition in Westminster.

What all those cuts are yet is still not entirely clear. The council is consulting on 165 individual savings - everything from shutting or hiving off Central Baths to dramatically reducing the opening hours of libraries. But this was when the cuts needed over five years 'only' amounted to £98m. Just before Christmas the council was told what its actual funding from central government grants would be and found out it was £25m worse off than expected.

Figures are, however, meaningless.


To Joe Public (not his real name) the sums of £98m and £123m are basically the same thing - a Euromillions lottery rollover winner's jackpot.

What matters is not the figure on the balance sheet but what happens to it next.

Andrew Johnson is seriously dangling the prospect of the council going bankrupt and of not even being able to empty the bins.

This is a 'winter of discontent' level of doomsday scenario being put before residents.


Other councils have certainly complained of being hit hard by the cuts - all of the authorities of the Black Country are likely to put council tax up in April in defiance of George Osborne's desire for another freeze.

But no others around these parts expect to not even be able to dispose of the rubbish. Even with 52 per cent of the funding gone, as Wolverhampton City Council claims, the bins are the most basic thing everyone relies upon.

If it really does get to that, people may well be angry with the Coalition.

But they will also demand to know what other 'absolutely essential' things their money was spent on over the years.

Will Labour elect The King for the campaign?

With the date of the 2015 election confirmed years ago, the planning and preparation for the political showdown is already well advanced.

West Bromwich East MP Tom Watson has even been thinking about campaign music.

I've still got Tony Blair's choice of D:Ream and Things Can Only Get Better in my head 17 years on so the importance of the right playlist cannot be underestimated.

Mr Watson wants If I Can Dream by Elvis Presley to be Labour's tune.

"It's my birthday. Make my dream come true. Please make this our election theme," he tweeted as he turned 47 this week.

It has to be a better choice than Gordon Brown's people made when he launched the 2010 manifesto in Birmingham.

He walked in to the QE Hospital to Soul Man. A great tune, absolutely.

But it was somewhat ominous that it was a tune performed by Sam and Dave. The Camerons, anyone?

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