‘houselessness, hunger and rags’ – Sunderland £100m cuts gloom compared to time of Dickens

Charles Dickens
Charles Dickens
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THE SPIRIT of Charles Dickens’ eternal optimist was invoked as councillors came face-to-face with the scale of Wearside’s spending cuts.

After introducing a series of reports highlighting the full scale of the challenges facing Sunderland City Council over the coming years, Cabinet Secretary Coun Mel Spedding quoted David Copperfield’s Mr Micawber: “Welcome poverty!..Welcome misery, welcome houselessness, welcome hunger, rags, tempest, and beggary! Mutual confidence will sustain us to the end!”

But he stopped short of borrowing the character’s famous catchphrase, assuring cabinet members that “something will turn up.”

Coun Spedding was returning a compliment paid by Mr Micawber in the 1935 movie adaptation of the novel, in which he borrows from Sunderland’s city motto: “Nil Desperandum! – Never despair!”

The Echo reported on Tuesday that council officers were predicting the authority could be facing a funding shortfall of £100million over the next three financial years, if Government funding levels for 2014/15 are replicated for the following year.

The Government’s funding levels for the next financial year are broadly in line with expectations but the spending level suggested for 2014/15 is about £6million lower than the council had anticipated.

The public spending cuts were hitting Northern councils unfairly, said Coun Spedding.

“The North East and North West are taking a bigger hit than the national average,” he said.

Next year will be the first the council has been responsible for collecting council tax and business rates and the Government’s figures were based on “significant assumptions” about how much the authority would be able to collect, said Coun Spedding.

“It is important these issues are addressed by Government, given the system is not to be reviewed until 2020,” he told the meeting.

Commenting on the report, Coun Graeme Miller said it was a case of saying nothing or too much: “We can’t make a comment,” he said, “we would be here all day if we started.”

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