As the implications of last week’s Comprehensive Spending Review become clearer, and the debate shifts away from national policies to local delivery, and thus cuts in services, local government, the citizens and the media in Lincolnshire have a tricky task ahead to balance the need for fiscal prudence against the inevitable impact on jobs and communities.
One of the problems across the county could, curiously enough, be the fact that politically Lincolnshire is now almost entirely Blue. With the loss of the City Council in 2007 and then Gillian Merron’s defeat this year, Labour has no power base, hence a very limited electoral mandate. So local authorities will have to be careful how they approach the need for spending cuts.
React too quickly and local politicians could be seen as acting with a hasty zeal for cutting rather than making a measured response to new budget restraints; a risk Lincolnshire County Council ran when within minutes of George Osborne finishing his speech they announced that 35 management jobs are to go.
The media has a similar problem: do they reflect the political complexion of their county (and, in the main, of their owners) or do they mirror the anxieties of readers, viewers and listeners as the cuts bite?
Look at the public’s comments online over the weekend and what is clear is that the level of understanding about the depth of cuts and the effects that they might have, never mind political appreciation of the underlying issues, is still pretty poor and needs to be addressed.
So the challenge for the press and the citizens’ governance will be to find the mean line between political loyalties and economic realities. Not for nothing is there an old Eastern curse “may you live in interesting times”.
— Peter Smith is a retired government PR professional, now lecturing in journalism, communicaitons and politics at the University of Lincoln.