UK government is hiding £28bn of ‘stealth cuts’ to public services, says report

Rishi Sunak’s government is hiding £28bn of “stealth cuts” to public services over the next five years, according to a report warning that a renewed austerity drive at next month’s budget would further damage the economy.

Richard Partington 

Calling on the chancellor, Jeremy Hunt, to change course at next month’s tax and spending set-piece speech to the House of Commons, the Trades Union Congress said a boost for public spending could help keep Britain out of a recession this year.

Paul Nowak, the general secretary of the TUC, said: “With a recession already expected this year, a new round of austerity would make a bad situation worse. The chancellor should instead use the power of government to lift us up and out of Britain’s economic slump.

“Good schools, hospitals, childcare and transport are vital, not only for families but for businesses, too. But the Tories keep attacking them – that’s a big part of why our whole economy is falling behind.”

The report by the New Economics Foundation (NEF), a leftwing thinktank, showed that Hunt’s spending plans outlined at the autumn statement in November included cuts to public services worth £1,000 a household by 2027-28.

Hunt promised in the autumn statement to increase spending by 1% a year after inflation. However, this was underpinned by Office for Budget Responsibility forecasts, which had assumed inflation would fall below zero.

The thinktank said this was unlikely to happen because the Bank of England would be expected to intervene to keep inflation close to its 2% target rate. NEF said that if inflation remained close to 2%, this would imply real-terms cuts – not growth – to spending worth £28bn.

Alfie Stirling, the chief economist and director of research at NEF, said the government was “exploiting a curious feature of the OBR’s forecast” to make its promise. “It allowed the chancellor to play smoke and mirrors with the future of public services last autumn,” he said.

“There is no serious or credible justification for the government’s current plans. Consecutive UK chancellors have already put the country through a decade of austerity, which means we know exactly how it ends: near-stagnant earnings growth, threadbare public safety nets and the first stall in life expectancy on modern record.”

A Treasury spokesperson said: “Total departmental spending will continue to grow in real terms over the spending review period. The efficiency and savings review announced at the autumn statement will help departments manage pressures where necessary.”

Devon’s doomed plan for luxury Dubai-style resort in Seaton, Philip Skinners “Big Stage”

And some of the other more bonkers plans over the years have been recalled from the archive by Daniel Clark

Two of these are of particular interest to East Devon see devonlive for the others.

AN INDOOR SPORTING AND CONCERT ARENA – Cllr Philip Skinner’s big idea to bring in the crowds

At one stage, there were tentative plans for an indoor sports stadium and concert arena with a capacity for 20,000 people to be built in the Greater Exeter area. At the time, East Devon, Exeter, Mid Devon and Teignbridge councils were preparing the Greater Exeter Strategic Plan to cover matters for their area.

The plan would have seen 57,000 new homes built across the four council areas by 2040, as well as infrastructure improvements. But during discussions, the idea of developing a regionally or nationally significant sports arena and concert venue was floated.

The idea was initially suggested by the then East Devon District Council’s deputy leader Cllr Phil Skinner and was supported by the then leader of Teignbridge District Council Cllr Jeremy Christophers.

Cllr Christophers at the time said: “We are seeing what we can provide around an indoor sports facility and a concert arena and to see if it is deliverable to have one in the area. We are looking at the evidence of need for a sport zone and a concert venue that could host 10-20,000 in the area. We would need to make sure it stacks up financially, but it is welcomed and we think there is a need for it.

“There is nothing this side of Bristol like it that can give a year-round audience in a stadium of about 10-20,000 people. We feel that there is a need for this, but we will have to see whether it is what the people want.”

However the plans never came to anything. And then GESP collapsed in 2020 when first East Devon District Council, and then the rest of the councils, pulled out of the plan.


Now it was always questionable how legitimate this plan actually was. But the ambitious Dubai-style development off the coast of Seaton never happened.

Back in 2017, the plans, which included luxury floating holiday accommodation pod, a 2,000 berth marina, and a showpiece viewing platform, were hosted on the Feniton Park Ltd website.

They were part of ‘The Future Vision For East Devon Marina’ and the scheme which was in the early design and research stage, would have seen luxury floating holiday accommodation pods, water sports, a 2,000 berth marina, as well as new coastal defences and would incorporate wave and wind energy.

An artist impression of the East Devon Marina project (Image: Feniton Park Ltd)

At the time, a statement about the East Devon Marina scheme said: “This environmentally sensitive scheme will incorporate wind/solar and wave energy as part of an exciting holistic approach to improving the coastal defences for the stunning Jurassic Coast of Devon and Dorset.

“The master plan visualises a variety of uses to supplement the proposed 2.5km of new coastal defence works including a new 2000+ berth marina, luxury floating holiday accommodation pods with private berths, water sports and training area and potential fish farm along side retail and leisure space on the central promenade together with a showpiece viewing platform.

“Early design research stages are underway to ensure any proposed scheme enhances the local environment as well as providing enhanced coastal defence and economic gains to the area both in the short and long term.”

Councillors in Seaton at the time described the scheme as ‘highly speculative’ – and they seem to have been proven right, as the plans were removed from the ‘future projects’ section of the Feniton Park Ltd website several months later.

Would this have been Seaton’s answer to Exmouth’s “Ocean”? – Owl

More on the legacy problems balancing the books in Mid Devon

Angry residents halt parking rises

A review after plans lasted two weeks

Ollie Heptinstall, local democracy reporter

Huge hikes planned for parking charges in Mid Devon will be reviewed following an angry public backlash.

The changes, announced a fortnight ago to help balance the council’s coffers by £120,000 for the next financial year, would have seen some charges more than double from Tuesday 7 March.

An annual allocated space permit in one of the council’s car parks, for example, was set to rise from £425 to £912.50, while standard hourly tariffs were also set to go up at varying levels.

Defending the increases when they were announced, the council said it was due to government cuts, its “continued recovery” from the pandemic and the “rise in costs of materials.”

A spokesperson added: “We fully understand the need to encourage people to visit and shop in our towns but we feel this rise, which for many will be an 80 pence increase for a two-hour parking period, will allow us to offset some of our rising costs and still allow people to park at a reasonable rate.”

But after several public speakers hit out at the move during a heated full council meeting on Wednesday [22 February], councillors decided to halt the process and review the increases.

Charges are instead now likely to rise in line with inflation. However this will be agreed by councillors at a meeting in the near future.

One of the speakers, Kate Clayton-White, told councillors: “We’ve faced inflation-busting increases in food and energy bills, so the decision to raise car parking charges by eye-watering amounts is very hard to swallow and, for some people, unaffordable.

“We rent an allocated space because we live on a town centre street with limited parking. Our annual rents will be increasing by 115 per cent – from £425 to £912.50. We cannot identify the meetings where this increase was discussed and who agreed it.”

She slammed the council’s communication on the issue as “dire,” adding: “We only found out through a chance conversation with a neighbour.

“The council uses email to remind us that fees are due, yet can’t seem to use the same simple system to inform us of the increases. We suspect there will be many people who do not even know.

“Last week’s press release stated that ‘material costs have escalated.’ Our car-sized piece of tarmac is not swept or tended in any other way by council employees.

“We cannot see how the ‘higher material costs’ could possibly lead to this huge increase which will, by the way, generate an extra £28,000 per year from 51 spaces.”

Ms Clayton-White claimed the council is using motorists as a “cash cow” whose “secretive decisions would seem fit to propel them head-long into the Rotten Boroughs section of a future edition of Private Eye.”

Jo Webber, the owner of long-running Tiverton store Jo Amor, also criticised the rises, telling councillors: “Is Mid Devon totally unaware that the UK is going through a cost-of-living crisis? A car park is the first port of call for any tourist or new shoppers to Tiverton. What sort of welcome is that?

“Our local population, that have stood by our local independents to shop local through these past covid years. What sort of thank you is that?

“The local businesses owned and employing local people will risk reduced footfall due to the higher cost of parking. This will have a domino effect and Mid Devon will have more empty units. Is that your plan?”

Ms Webber asked the council if it had consulted with businesses and residents, adding: “Mid Devon, have you realised everyone who lives and works in and around Tiverton will be effected by this outrageous proposal?”

Business owner Sophia Beard, speaking as a representative of the Tiverton Town Centre partnership, continued along the same lines. “Having had many, many, many conversations with people – both residents, business owners, members of the town council – over the past week, there is no way for me to impress upon you the strength of feeling that there has been since this news arrived – all to the negative.”

She slammed the lack of a consultation and notice period for those affected and questioned the “scattergun” approach to the increases – as some fees had planned to go up by more than others.

“If your budget needs to be balanced then that is something that you need to look at. But I tell you what – we are not the ones that are going to pay for it in this way.”

Ms Beard added: “Every single time someone from any surrounding villages gets in their car they have a choice. They have a choice whether they come into our town centre and support our local businesses, or whether they head off to Taunton … or Exeter … or anywhere else.

“The fight that we have, ladies and gentleman, is to keep them here in town. Your proposal with these increase in charges is so disgustingly, disproportionately, arrogantly, counter-productive and counter-intuitive to that aim, that we really need you to listen.”

She said a petition, containing 1,000 signatures collected in less than a week, would be presented to councillors at the meeting.

After hearing residents’ concerns, later in the meeting Cllr Richard Chesterton (Conservative, Lowe Culm) asked for officers to stop the planned parking increases.

Councillor John Downes (Lib Dem, Boniface), chair of the council’s economy policy development group, agreed. He also reminded his colleagues that his group had recommended parking fees rise in line with inflation – and suggested that would guide a review.

Members agreed to halt the planned increases subject to the review, meaning much of the expected £120,000 additional income for the budget could now have to be found elsewhere.

Tory Plymouth leader took 42 days off

He’d told council it was “two-to-three” days

Philip Churm, local democracy reporter

The leader of Plymouth City Council has come under fire after it emerged he was on leave for 42 days last summer, despite him publicly stating he had only absent for “two-to-three days.” 

It follows a question by Labour leader Tudor Evans during a full council meeting last September in which he asked Cllr Richard Bingley: “Could you give us a rundown of how many council meetings you attended during your five week absence from the city this summer?”

Mr Bingley, the Conservative leader who represents Southway, insisted: “I was not absent from the city for five weeks this summer.” 

However, following a Freedom of Information (FOI) request into Cllr Bingley’s official diary submitted by the Local Democracy Reporting Service, it has emerged there were 42 days in which it was marked “Leaders leave – Uncontactable” including the whole of August and an 11-day stretch from 25 June to 5 July.  

While there is no indication whether Cllr Bingley was out of the city during this time, opposition councillors say his statement that “I had a pre-arranged vacation and then a very, very short trip; two to three days” was misleading and failed to truly reflect his “uncontactable” status. 

Responding to the details in the FOI, Ham councillor Mr Evans said: “The reason I asked the original question in full council was because I think it’s important that the residents of Plymouth know whether the city’s Conservative administration is putting proper effort into their extremely responsible jobs. 

“That’s what we in Plymouth Labour do when we are in charge.

“No one begrudges anyone a holiday, but to be uncontactable for an entire month is simply not acceptable when you have the huge responsibility – and privilege – of running our city.

“That’s why I challenged Cllr Bingley about his absence and it looks as though he wasn’t being entirely open with me when he replied.”

Leader of the Independent Alliance and councillor for Compton, Nick Kelly – a former Conservative leader of the council – also suggested Cllr Bingley had been dishonest.

“This FOI has revealed the truth and I’m pleased the facts are now in the public domain,” he said.

“Cllr Bingley’s response to full council showed a distinct lack of honesty, clarity and the truth regarding his questioned absence this summer.”

Cllr Kelly also said there were several high-profile events from which the leader had been absent. 

“This is not an isolated incident. Cllr Bingley in his capacity as leader has other notable absences at key civic events, such as the King’s Proclamation, the Keyham anniversary memorial, 40th anniversary of the Falklands Veterans and, only last week, at the first year anniversary of the invasion of Ukraine. 

“To many this shows a complete lack of leadership, respect and commitment to the people of Plymouth. 

“Cllr Bingley’s past conduct, in addition to this latest revelation seriously questions his character and capability to lead Plymouth.”

However, Cllr Bingley insisted the official diary was not an indication of the work he was doing throughout the summer months.  

“This council diary only outlines council-organised meetings,” he said. “The role of council leader is that they are also a political party leader and, thus, the majority of political meetings, mentoring, telephone calls, meetings with helpers and candidates, party policy-reading and deliberation, campaigning, delivery, are not provided within this diary.

“Indeed, it is unlawful for local government officials to handle party political campaign business. 

“Finally, it is worth reflecting that elected councillors are not full-time members of parliament, we do not have private offices to support us, and our community duties must be managed alongside other aspects of family and working life. 

“It is an honour to be a Plymouth city councillor and to lead PCC, but it is important to acknowledge that this single, official diary is just a single part of the engagements and communications that a council leader undertakes.”

The Tories control Plymouth City Council but have fewer seats than Labour.  The Conservatives hold 25 seats, Labour have 23 and the Independent Alliance have five.

A third of the city’s seats will be contested in May’s local elections.