Sunday, February 20, 2011

The complexities of budgets are beyond some people

That old fool Philip Pullman is upset at the prospect of library downsizing. In a recent speech, he lashed out against the difficult choices facing many local authorities:

"Here in Oxfordshire we are threatened with the closure of 20 out of our 43 public libraries. Mr Keith Mitchell, the leader of the county council, said in the Oxford Times last week that the cuts are inevitable, and invites us to suggest what we would do instead. What would we cut? Would we sacrifice care for the elderly? Or would youth services feel the axe? I don’t think we should accept his invitation. It’s not our job to cut services. It’s his job to protect them.”

Where does one start with this kind of incoherent rhetoric? Anyone who has ever held responsibility for a budget knows that there are three numbers that matter; how much is coming in, how much is going out, and the difference between the two. If there is less money coming in than going out, then difficult decisions are inevitable.

The county council in Oxfordshire, like local authorities across the country, has lower revenues. There are multiple reasons for the shortfall; lower economic growth, the after-shock of the financial crisis, and large banks successfully avoiding corporate income tax obligations.

Whatever the reason, people like Keith Mitchell have to confront the consequences of lower funding. This means answering incredibly painful questions like is it better to close 20 public libraries rather than reduce care for the elderly?

I don't know anything about Keith Mitchell or what party he represents. However, in these difficult days, he will be called upon to provide leadership, which means making agonizing and unpopular decisions that serve the best long term interests of his community.

He will find no help from scribblers like Pullman who put forward impossible demands such as maintaining public services without sufficient revenues to fund them.

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