Musings from the editor's chair: When a black hole isn’t a black hole

Martin Trepte

Martin Trepte

Musings from the editor's chair:  When a black hole isn’t a black hole

When is a black hole not a black hole? When you get the council tax payer to plug it, apparently.

That was the response from the council to last week’s front page highlighting the growing costs of social care for our ageing population.

There is no suggestion the care budget will not be funded this year – as our article made clear.

Nor was our front page an attack on council officers working hard to balance the books.

Our point was that, whether it’s budgeted for or not, there is still a ‘black hole’ in care funding. It’s an issue nationally and it’s an issue in the Royal Borough – and it’s only going to get worse.

To most of us a black hole is something that sucks in more and more resources. But to the council it’s not a black hole because, in the final analysis, its going to be paid for by the council tax payer.

This is the same council tax that councillors are putting up by four per cent including the maximum social care levy.

Said councillors immediately took to social media to condemn the Advertiser’s ‘irresponsible reporting’ – and our lack of accountancy skills: the figure we quoted was for care of older and physically disabled people but, we’re told, the total care bill is actually much higher.

The attacks continued at Thursday night’s cabinet meeting in more scenes reminiscent of a George Orwell novel – this time straight from the pages of Animal Farm.

Just like the chickens and sheep in the novel (who can’t think for themselves) chant ‘four legs good – two legs bad’ the refrain at cabinet was effectively ‘Council good – Advertiser bad’.

But while the care bill can continue to be plugged from the council tax in the short term, readers will be justified in asking what will have to be cut elsewhere to pay for it.

And those who write in about blocked drains, pot holes not repaired and dumped asbestos left in a ditch for six months will wonder just what financial legacy has been left to RBWM by years of tax cuts.

And if everything is just fine, what exactly was the cabinet member for adult services doing on Radio 4’s Today programme last week calling for a new way of funding social care?

But don’t worry citizens: Council good – Advertiser bad.

Cabinet members took every opportunity to bleat and cluck that refrain at the cabinet meeting, which was held at Cox Green School and attended by a group of its sixth formers.

Council leader Simon Dudley – to sniggers from his toadies – went so far as to tell the students that they shouldn’t believe what they read in the Advertiser.

What, I wonder, did they make of that particular piece of advice from a politician intent on relegating their excellent comprehensive to secondary modern status by the reintroduction of grammar schools?

And it must be just a coincidence that the very same day newspapers were ‘banned’ from the town hall because they are ‘out of step’ with council requirements.

Council good – Advertiser bad?

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