The anguish of austerity cuts may have come late to the leafier Conservative-run councils of England but there is no doubt it has arrived. Reflecting on the eye-watering spending cuts stricken county halls must push through this year and next, the Kent county council leader Paul Carter declared to a Tory conference fringe meeting last week that “no Conservative came into local government to do this”. The room, packed with councillors, exploded into applause, accompanied by booming cries of “hear, hear”.
The meeting pulsed with anger, bewilderment, despair, possibly even regret that the austerity chickens have come home to roost in Tory England. Most councillors there would have accepted town hall belt-tightening eight years ago as a necessary obligation at a time of national economic crisis. Few, I suspect, assumed then that their civic duty almost a decade later would be to shut cherished services and strap local government on to the life-support ventilator.