Looking through the social car crash of cuts that Salford City Council is making, it's the young, the elderly, the most vulnerable people who are going to face the harshest realities when the dust settles.
"There are things which are going to have to go, unfortunately" says John Merry, Leader of Salford City Council, sitting in his huge office offering coffee - but no biscuits. A victim of the cuts.
"Some of the work we do to look at the issues of crime, the work we do on youth, yes unfortunately that has had to go" he continues "but that is because it was directly funded from grants from central government which we're no longer getting…"
But surely Salford Council could have altered the budgets to support those things?
"We could alter it by cutting back on other services" he replies "For example, we could have cut back on care for the elderly in order to fund work with young people…"
No, no, no. It's not quite as stark a choice as that. Before John Merry faced the press yesterday, journalists had less than an hour to go through the huge list of cuts. Not only was a lot of small horrendous detail not included - but what was also missing was the projects that the Council will actually be spending its money on next year…
£3million to the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra…Over £200,000 on the Chief Exec…Sweeteners for developers… Salford Reds rugby club… MediaCityUK… The continuation of the Council's Life magazine…and lots of other vanity projects that we just don't yet know about…
"All the things that you've campaigned about in the past, like the Proms and the Ice Rink are going to have to go" says the Leader "but nevertheless, there aren't those areas of money you could have identified as areas of savings to support things like the youth service and the Connexions service."
Let's go through some of them… £3million to the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra?
"We hope to make an announcement on that shortly" he says "We are discussing it with the BBC and we'll be able to give you a better indication in the future."
Is it a cut in the money or just about spreading the payments over more years to make it look better?
"We'll be making an announcement in the future…"
OK, let's talk about the Chief Executive's salary. Barbara Spicer's pay and perks haven't been touched.
"There seems to be some confusion about this" John Merry decides "Apparently you mustn't earn more than the Prime Minister, and in Salford she isn't…"
She's still earning a lot (see here)…
"What, £150,000? Can I just point out that she's below the average for what chief executives earn…"
Does Barbara Spicer actually do anything for that? She's so far below the radar it's hard to know what she actually does all day…
"Hang on, as much as I'd like to take credit for everything that happens in Salford, I couldn't, for instance, have got the BBC here without the work the chief executive put in. We couldn't have configured the savings to minimise the number of compulsory redundancies without the work of the chief executive…"
Whatever. Meanwhile the Council's monthly Life magazine has been spared from the cuts. Tory Minister, Eric Pickles, is already swinging the noose for council mags, declaring at the weekend that none will be allowed to come out more than quarterly…
"Pickles has made the announcement but he hasn't got the sanction of Parliament. So we'll wait and see because we actually save money by not having to pay for advertising…Quite frankly, everybody in Salford is entitled to know what's happening, not just those on the selected Salford Advertiser delivery round. You don't think we should have a magazine?"
We've never opposed the idea of a council magazine, just the content and the amount of money you're stuffing into it to prop it up.
"What would you have us do?"
Give us the money to do the Salford Star…
"We'll end up in court…"
At least the Star tries to hold the Council up to account. While the media yesterday focused on the easy to understand cuts, like burial fees going up, the loss of litter collections and libraries shutting down, the added horror is in the detail, hidden behind words like `reconfiguration', `reshape', `restructure' and `redesign'. Awkward words to get your head around. Easier words might have been `cut, slash and burn'…
Already, last night we got an e-mail from a user of Salford's service for people with mental health problems, commenting on the `restructuring' and `modernising' of those services…
"Regarding the mental health re-configuration, or closure I would say, to be honest. I think in the end it's about saving money overall as the mental health team is to be cut from four teams to three and it was decided Cleveland House would be the one to lose this service. They're saying it is not a cut in services? Just a re-configuration??? I think it's bull to be honest, to cloak the proper reason, so to speak, money - as with Duchy House - at the expense of mentally poorly people."
Meanwhile, the `restructuring' of Adult Social Services has already been done, with horrendous consequences for vulnerable elderly people (see Nigel Pivaro's article here and the comments) which we're still following up. Which, we suspect, the Council and Greater Manchester Police are still trying to cover up.
In the new budget there's a `reshaping' of the adult social care assessment process with six social workers being cut – the very people who should be monitoring our care for the elderly…John Merry still talks of making savings by "reconfigurating the service…What we're trying to do is minimise the damage to adult social care…"
Does he know about the horrific results of the so-called `reconfiguration'? "Yes, well that's something we're going to have to look at, how we actually manage the sensitivity…"
The elderly, who don't make the headlines, are being absolutely hammered in this budget. For starters, a 5% increase in charges for community care services and less places available in care homes, with the elderly left isolated at home relying on technology to possibly save their lives after a fall. A cut of over £1.5million to Adult Social Care is given a positive spin… "Through improved early intervention and better support planning, give Salford people more options and reduce the need for long term care…"
Our kids are also going to be given less life chances as budgets for Special Education Needs, careers advice and school help are being slashed by millions of pounds. And the Integrated Youth Service is taking a £1.7million cut, with over £500,000 from a `restructure of the Youth Service and Youth Offending Service'.
"There is a £1.2million reorganisation of the youth service over a period of time and we'll have a review to ensure it's delivered more effectively" says John Merry "There are no youth centres closing, apart from those already planned at North Salford and Encombe Place, but there may be next year as this review gets underway."
While the Leader insists that Salford Council has targeted "back office functions more than anything else", it's the old, the young, the poverty stricken and those with the most social problems that are going to be hit hardest by these cuts – in forgotten outskirt places like Little Hulton, Irlam and Cadishead.
"The Government has withdrawn all those grants which were there to alleviate the affects of deprivation and they've chosen to slash things like the Connexions service" John Merry agrees "What we can't do, unfortunately, because our budget was strained almost to breaking point before this, is to find space within our mainstream budget for actually funding these things.
"It's very serious" he adds "It's not the easiest situation I've ever been in. What we're trying to do is minimise the damage that can be done to frontline services but it is impossible to mitigate the affects of these cuts. But remember that these cuts are principally imposed by the Conservative Central Government…"
According to Salford Council estimates, as a result of the cuts, 662.8 jobs will be going plus 76 non-Council jobs. While John Merry reckons that the Council jobs loss will dip below 600 in reality and that most will be voluntary redundancy, it's still a massive loss to a city which relies heavily on the public sector. And next year, having already slashed to the bone, there's another £20million worth of cuts coming….
"We're still trying to work through what it means" he concludes.
What it probably means is even more cuts to Salford's community services.
Buried in this latest round of cuts is the "closure of a family homeless hostel"…
"One of our problems is that the Government has decided to cut £2million from the Supporting People programme which is the services we provide for the homeless and so forth" John Merry explains "We couldn't possibly absorb all that cut so we've had to make savings in that area but we're hoping to minimise the damage…"
So where is the homeless hostel? Which one is it?
"I couldn't tell you off hand…We'll get back to you…"
That was at 11am yesterday. We still haven't been told which homeless hostel it is.
These cuts are a social car crash, indeed. And no-one knows the names of the victims.
Part 2: John Merry on the Big Society and Political opposition…click here
Salford Council cuts in detail here…
Words: Stephen Kingston