The squeezed State

Whilst central government fails to solve the crisis – see last two blogs – managing it is leading to increasingly tough decisions for local authorities. The leader of Newcastle city council has been hammered for pointing out the inevitable – that cuts to his budget of one third by 2018 mean the Council will be struggling to meet its statutory duties, and will be limited to a withered stump of local services that don’t extend much beyond social care and waste collection. Not that it feels much like that in Camden just yet.

At some point this must lead to calls for greater autonomy. The eight cities outside of London have already formed a collective cabinet wanting to combine spending, spurred on by the government’s eight city deals. But the raw numbers are stark. Birmingham thinks it will have lost half its budget by 2016/17 Manchester a quarter. In Liverpool the cuts amount to £250 per head, the highest in the country outside of Hackney.

It’s difficult to take a longer-term view in the face of numbers like these. But that intellectual thinking is being done by some. Two are Italy’s (now former) PM Mario Monti and a French MEP Sylvie Goulard, who have written a book arguing that the nation state is just a passing phenomena. Nation states are modern and artificial constructs created in response to the political and economic issues of the 19th Century. They were never a great invention, but a way of yoking populations to the aspirant ruling class with consequential wars that killed millions in Europe. Our problems today are multilateral and can only be tackled by institutions able to work across states and with the stability to have a longer time frame than the next election. Sure, they do need greater democratic accountability. But that can come from wrestling power away from the Council of Ministers and boosting the European Parliament. One way to do that, argue the pair, is through elections of MEPS standing for cross European parties, not national parties. I’d go for that.

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