Wednesday, 16 March 2011

A Tale of Two Councils

I've been holding up the example of Lib Dem run Sheffield council vs Labour run Manchester council recently as an example of how councils aren't forced to cut public services - they choose to. I've been challenged on this comparison so this is an article where I'm going to compare as much as possible between the two councils to try and settle the issue once and for all. I'm going to try and create a fair and balanced comparison of the state of the two councils, their funding, the cuts to their funding and the cuts to services they are making. I don't know how this comparison will turn out so I may be rather red faced by the end of this piece.

For the record, all statistics used will come either from the council websites, local media or the BBC. Hopefully this will mean the data can be considered reliable. I've also used direct comparisons and the most up to date data whenever possible. For example, population will be using the 2009 estimate but details of the percentage of residents in each age group will be based on the 2001 census figures.

As you can see from this, both councils are relatively similar in terms of their residents. When it comes to employment and life expectancy, Manchester is significantly worse off but in most others it is only one or two points more worse off at most. Sheffield is also slightly larger and has a lower average weekly wage. Both have to provide a similar level of social housing and both have similar levels of unqualified residents. Manchester has a smaller elderly and non-adult population percentage-wise than Sheffield so presumably has to provide slightly less education and care home facilities.


Some people have been pointing out that I haven't mentioned what services the councils were providing for the cuts so here's a table to show you what they look like (when it comes to schools I've excluded academies and independent schools):

Now let's look at their financial situation:

Edit: this is an updated table to correct the figure for total cuts to Sheffield
Now, what this data shows is that Manchester receives more funding per head from the government than Sheffield and spends more per head. Manchester is actually spending more than Sheffield overall despite having a lower population. Compared to Sheffield, Manchester has a lower council tax rate, receives more funding from central government, will be spending more on capital projects, will receive more grants to spend on capital projects and will be borrowing less.

Despite this, Manchester is making far more substantial cuts, including closing all but one public toilet and making over nine times more people redundant than Sheffield is.

So what we can say overall is this. Manchester is in a slightly worse position than Sheffield economically and demographically and therefore the effect of cuts should be worse there than in Sheffield. After all, Sheffield is being forced to make smaller cuts to a larger population. However, the difference in circumstances between the two councils is not enough to explain the vast difference in the way in which the respective councils are making the cuts. Sheffield is making cuts with an emphasis on minimising redundancies and front-line service closures. Manchester is cutting both jobs and front-line services across the board. Frankly, I think the statistics speak for themselves. Almost no front-line services are being closed in Sheffield while Manchester is closing dozens of surestart centres and youth centres. Given the difference in situations, you would expect some front-line services to be shut and more redundancies in Manchester but nowhere near the scale that we are seeing. It also seems clear that Manchester council hasn't looked at many cost saving measures that Sheffield has - for example, Sheffield is going to start sharing back room services with other councils to cut costs.

Sheffield Lib Dems have shown that it is possible to handle large cuts without gutting crucial services. Manchester Labour seem almost to have taken delight in making such savage cuts and then blaming them on the Coalition. It is also deeply telling that Labour in Sheffield didn't propose their own alternative budget despite the fact that they could have gotten it voted through if they'd persuaded the three Green and Independent councillors to vote for it. This indicates to me that, not only did the Lib Dems in Sheffield protect their city from the cuts, they did it to such an extent that the opposition couldn't think of a better way to do it.

In conclusion, I think it is fair to say that the example of Sheffield vs. Manchester is a fair comparison and shows, as many have argued, that councils do not need to make substantial service cuts and redundancies just to balance the budget. Labour's cuts in Manchester seem deeply political on the back of all this.


  1. same story in LD Stockport compared to Manchester

  2. "However, the difference in circumstances between the two councils is not enough to explain the vast difference in the way in which the respective councils are making the cuts."

    WTF?! You cannot possibly deduce that from the figures you have provided! You'd need to post the figures of how each councils cuts are being broken down.

    "Now, what this data shows is that Manchester receives more funding per head from the government than Sheffield and spends more per head."

    Therefore, as it is more reliant than Sheffield on gov grants and is receiving a bigger percentage cut in it's gov grants Manchester will have to cut more.

    "Sheffield is going to start sharing back room services with other councils to cut costs."

    You do realise that the reason sharing back room services saves money is because less people are employed, i.e. the council are going to cut staff.

  3. Um, George's statistics show that Manchester would have more government grants and spending per head even AFTER these cuts.

    Sheffield are making about 10% less cuts but are making 90% less job losses and almost 100% less closures to frontline services.

    Even without the extra detail you can see a clear difference between the two approaches.

  4. @Anonymous 2

    I would have provided more data if I'd been able to find it for Manchester. Sheffield's data was easy to find but after spending three or four hours searching through documents on the manchester website I gave up. For your other points I refer you to Strafio.

  5. This really just goes to show what most of us have believed all along. Labour are quite willing to disregard the needs of their own people to score political points against the coalition. They care more about politics than about people.

  6. Labour's got to a pretty appalling point when it's happy to let its constituents suffer as a PR stunt.

  7. I'm not sure this makes sense. You could of course be right about the motivations here: Labour have an interest in making the cuts seem savage, the Lib Dems do not. But you haven't demonstrated that this is what is going on.

    If Manchester is facing bigger cuts, then it will have to cut more jobs, services, initiatives etc. The fact that it receives more money overall might be used to demonstrate some pre-existing pro-Manchester bias, but it also explains why Manchester is making bigger cuts: it had more to cut in the first place. A £109m cut would be expected to cause a larger absolute number of job/service losses than an £84m cut, regardless of how much funding te two cities were getting in the first place.

  8. Thanks for proving the point that the LibDems are trying to use the cuts for political campaigning, regardless of what damage they do to some of the poorest people in the country.

    It seems so long ago since I thought it impossible that the LibDems and the Conservatives could go into coalition, as they are so politically different: sadly what events have shown is that so many LibDems are basically just Tory under the skin.

  9. Chaise, the question still remains why with greater spending per head, why aren't Manchester able to sustain services like Sheffield are?

    Yonmei, Labour have been blaming these cuts on the coalition. We need to make it quite clear that:
    1) The Lib Dems don't deserve the biggest portion of the blame for Manchester's cuts
    2) Manchester's citizens would do well to elect themselves another party on the council.

    To your second paragraph, if you believe in democracy, you'll recognise that no party has the right to govern the country alone. This means different parties acting like grown ups. Millions of people voted for the Tories and their manifesto, and while I largely disagree with them, I also respect that some of their views should make it into law.

    We tried to talk with Labour too, despite the lack of numbers to make it work, but other than a few outspoken characters, they largely preferred to retreat into opposition rather than making a workable deal.

  10. Wait there, you make a whole blog on better spending and use of money, but just simply slip in that you overestimated the cuts to Sheffields budget, by that trifling ammount....£14 million.

    Shouldn't you be stating your error at the start of the article so people reading it realise your figures are wrong.....then again, it was only err....£14 million.

  11. I correct the figure just after where the error was made. The £98 million figure comes from minutes from a Sheffield council meeting. However, the £84 million figure appears to be a more recent one. The £14 million difference, while large, is still not enough to explain the huge differences in cuts being made by the two councils.

    However, if my correction immediately below the table isn't good enough for you, I'll correct it right now.

  12. @Strafio

    "Um, George's statistics show that Manchester would have more government grants and spending per head even AFTER these cuts."

    What? You mean that Manchester's gov grants would still be larger than Sheffields? If so, I don't what your point is, Manchester is more reliant on gov grants it is receiving bigger reductions in it income thus has to cut more.

    "Sheffield are making about 10% less cuts but are making 90% less job losses and almost 100% less closures to frontline services."

    So? What does Sheffield spend it's money on? Does Sheffield run its own services or outsource them? How many staff does Manchester employ vs. Sheffield? You *cannot* make any assumption based merely on figures, doing so just makes you look like a party political hack. If Sheffield outsources everything then it is the service company who's going to be sacking people.

    "Even without the extra detail you can see a clear difference between the two approaches."

    No you can't, you can see a difference in the numbers but there was a difference to begin with so that tells you bugger all.

    "why aren't Manchester able to sustain services like Sheffield are?"

    WTF? A brain damaged 5 year old could spot massive hole in your argument. You have absolutely no idea what services Sheffield provides vs. the services Manchester provides. Does Sheffield run any swimming pools, sure start centres, libraries, etc. If so how many? One thing we do know is that Manchester spends, assuming Potter's figures are correct, £74m more on its services than Sheffield does. As it's reduction in gov grants bigger than Sheffield, then logically Manchester's cuts will be larger.


    "[Edit] - It turns out that the total cuts for Sheffield are £84 million rather than £98 million. Apologies for the mistake."

    So, basically your definitive comparison is totally wrong. Do you want to make that edit a little bigger so people see it first time round.

  13. @Anonymous

    You're quite right in that there are other figures we could be looking at. If you're willing to find them for me then I'll be more than willing to update this post accordingly. But I, for one, am too fed up to spend another minute searching through the hell hole that is Manchester's approach to transparency on finances.

    However, I can tell you this, Sheffield has more people than Manchester, similar demographics and provides approximately the same type of services.

    Here's one, brief example:

    "Sheffield Libraries are located right across the city with 28 community libraries, 5 mobile library vehicles, Sheffield Archives and a hospital library as well as the Central Library, providing free access to resources in a variety of formats."

    Manchester, as far as I can make out, provides 27 libraries, one central archive, no mobile libraries and one central library. This figure includes the ones to be closed. All of their libraries will now also close on Saturdays and Sundays.

  14. Strafio: Labour have been blaming these cuts on the coalition.

    Odd, that, innit? Given that it's the coalition that decided to make these savage cuts. We all blame the ConDem government except for a handful of desperate LibDems who want to believe people will still vote for them in May despite their having lost all purpose, principle, and integrity.

    Nick Clegg acknowledged in his conference speech that this kind of electioneering, cutting for a political purpose, was a disgrace to the UK & to politics. He was right: the LibDems are disgraceful.

  15. @Yonmei

    So when a Labour council cuts services and blames it on the coalition then that's not cutting for political purposes? Despite the fact that a Lib Dem council in a similar position cut far less and with far less damage to essential services?

  16. Do you have any figures on number of council employees & department head / CEO salary comparisons for the 2 councils?

  17. I do have a figure on number of employees but I don't have any figures on the department head/CEO salaries. If you can find any I'll be more than happy to add them to my analysis though.

  18. @ George

    "So when a Labour council cuts services and blames it on the coalition then that's not cutting for political purposes? Despite the fact that a Lib Dem council in a similar position cut far less and with far less damage to essential services?"

    You're ignoring three things: firstly, that the situation wasn't similar, as Manchester had to cut substantially more from its budget; secondly, if you provide more essential services to begin with, you're in danger of CUTTING more essential services if your budget is reduced (you haven't shown that both cities provided a proportionately similar amount of services to begin with); thirdly, Manchester have no choice to make cuts, and the people to blame are the people who forced them to cut - the coalition.

    As before, I can see why a Labour council might want to make cuts look as bad as possible. But coming up with a motive is not the same as making a conviction, or even making a good argument. And given your slack approach to your own data, I think the person trying to twist things to make the party they don't like look bad is you.

  19. @Chaise

    1. The situation is similar - they faced similar percentage cuts and have similar economies and demographics
    2. As I have shown, the services they provided are almost identical
    3. Manchester are indeed being forced to make cuts, just as the case with Sheffield. The distinction lies with the disproportionate nature of the cuts between the two councils.

  20. @ George
    You seem to have changed the data again. Last time I checked this page it was claimed that Sheffield were cutting £84m. Now you're claiming it's £98m. Strange.

    Either way:

    1. Even with your mysterious new figure for Sheffield, Manchester has to make substantially higher cuts over a substantially smaller population. That is clearly not "similar". Anyone claiming that they're close enough to make this kind of comparison meaningful instantly reveals a desire to attack Labour regardless of the facts.
    2. Manchester, again with a smaller population, employeed 1/3 as many employees as Sheffield again. Even after the cuts, this smaller area employes thousands more people.
    3. I am also very suspicious of what is and isn't included in your table. Every metric under "cuts" appears picked to make Manchester look bad. Going by that table, Sheffield have managed to cut millions from their budget at no cost to services. I doubt Sheffield council were that wasteful to begin with. Rather, I imagine you've chosen to only list those services that Manchester cut but Sheffield didn't.

    In any case, could you please make your mind up about how much was cut and provide sources? It's hard to take any of this seriously when you keep changing the most basic data.

  21. @Chaise

    The figure should be £84 million, when I updated the post to include a new table the £84 million table was somehow replaced with an older, incorrect version. I'm sorry for this and have fixed it. The post now up should be the final and correct version.

    1. Manchester had a similar percentage cut in funds. And they are still receiving substantially more money per head than Sheffield, despite having a smaller population. So yes, there is a difference there, just as in other areas there are differences. This is why you would expect to see Manchester making deeper cuts than Sheffield. But my argument is that the difference in cuts is disproportionate and that Manchester appear to be cutting far harder than they need to.

    2. This is true, which is why I think there is some justification for the higher job cuts that Manchester is making - though it would also indicate that they were running less efficient services than Sheffield to begin with so there could be some argument in saying that Manchester are being forced to cut harder now because they were more wasteful in the past. However, this is missing the point. Even excluding job cuts, Manchester is still cutting disproportionately harder.

    3. I did try and include other metrics in my cuts table. However, I couldn't find any services where Sheffield was making closures. If I had done then I'd have put those on the table as well.

    As for sources, all the figures come either from the council websites or from the local press. I'd provide you with a more detailed list of sources but I had to download about 24 documents to get these figures so I'm afraid I've forgotten which one gave which figures. But if you can find areas where I've got it wrong then please let me know and I'll stick it in as a big, visible update at the top of the article.

  22. @ George

    That's all fairly reasonable (and I admit I'm less desperate for sources now you're confirming that £84m was correct... we're all biased in our own favour).

    I think what's missing here - regardless of whether you're actively trying to make Labour look bad or honestly reporting your assessment of the data - is anything to really justify the claim that the cuts are "disproportionate". I actually think that it might be impossible to demonstrate one way or the other.

    Because comparisons between the cities are complex, you wouldn't expect service cuts to literally be to scale to budget cuts. So if City A lost 5% more in proportional funding than City B, it would be unreasonable to assume that it should cut 5% more services and 5% more jobs. The cuts to City A might happen to push it past a point where it has no choice but to cut a lot of services, whereas City B might have more room for manouevre.

    So I don't think you can show that Manchester council is cutting cynically just from the data above. It would probably be more worthwhile to identify places where it could have cut but didn't, and ask why. For example, if both Sheffield and Manchester were planning some big flashy artistic project costing millions of pounds (and which they hadn't already tied themselves into contracts for), and Sheffield cancelled it but Manchester didn't, that might demonstrate that Manchester was trying to politicise the cuts.

    For the record, I've always voted Lib Dem or Green, and that includes voting Lib Dem in my local Lib-Lab swing seat. Although I should admit that I'm currently a bit defensive of Labour as they sorta represent "the left" atm, and possibly also of Manchester as I live there. I accept that it's very possible that Manchester council are trying to make the coalition look bad. I'm just wary of attempting to prove that by waving a few stats around, when the disparities could well be explained by complexities in the situations of the two cities.

  23. @Potter

    Although you've updated to include some cursory info on the level of services provided. It is not fine grained enough to prove the conclusions you've drawn from it. This is one of the big problems in politics, far too many party political hacks spinning figures, facts and myths to con the public.

  24. @Chaise

    I'm aware that it is very hard to make accurate comparisons between cities. And you are probably right that this doesn't constitute a smoking gun. At the very least though, it does show, in my opinion, that when Manchester Labour blame the coalition for everything, they have awkward questions to answer themselves. I have to say, my personal opinion has shifted somewhat since writing this post, but I do still believe that the scale of cuts made in Manchester is excessive and that the comparison with Sheffield does at least show that they probably could have managed to cut less.


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