Mobilise against council cuts!

Submitted by Matthew on 3 December, 2014 - 11:35 Author: Editorial

The Local Government Association, which represents local councils, warned on 19 November that "services will buckle under the strain of further cuts".

Back in July it had already warned: "The funding gap is growing at an average of £2.1 billion a year, adding up to £12.4 billion by the end of [this] decade".

The National Audit Office has estimated (1 November) a 37% real-terms reduction in government funding to local authorities between 2010-11 to 2015-16.

Local authorities with the highest levels of disadvantage are facing the greatest cuts.

Councils have been projecting drastic cuts for 2015-6, partly in the hope of scaring the government, and partly in the spirit of softening up communities and local government workers' unions to accept similar but maybe marginally-smaller cuts.

Manchester City Council plans to cut £60 million. It says it will axe school crossing patrols, cut nearly £2 million from youth services, end free swims for children and the elderly, stop all community grants, close nine homeless hostels, and end support for respite for carers.

600 jobs could go. Not even children's social care and safeguarding are safe. The council proposes to cut £10 million cuts from these services.

Birmingham plans £200 million cuts for the next year alone, chopping 6,000 jobs in the next three years on top of 7,000 already lost since 2010.

Newcastle, which has received much coverage about its cuts after the council leader threatened to cut all arts funding and 50% of the libraries in 2013, plans to cut another £90 million in 2015-8, after cutting £37 million in 2013-4 and £38 million in 2014-5.

It has already cut all play and youth services, closed and outsourced pools and leisure services, and cut children's centres and family services by nearly £5 million.

Where is the opposition? Neither Labour-run councils — like Birmingham, Manchester and Newcastle — nor the big public sector unions like Unison and GMB have challenged the government.

The Labour council leaders generally say that central government budgets give them "no choice" but to make the cuts, and appeal to communities and to unions to join the councils in blaming the Tory-led regime.

But they are not campaigning to get Labour leaders to restore local government budgets if Labour wins the 2015 election. The Labour leaders say they will continue cuts (though a bit less harshly than the Tories), and talk of increasing public spending only (and by relatively tiny amounts) on the NHS. Labour is on track to continue the squeeze on local services only a bit less harshly than the Tories.

Instead, 65 Labour council leaders joined with 40 Tory council leaders, 10 Lib-Dems, and one independent, to write a letter to the Observer (30 November) calling for councils to have more local tax-raising powers.

They are right to complain about the excessive central government control over local budgets, enforced since the Thatcher government and increased by the current administration's measures to make it almost impossible for councils to raise council tax.

But we need a labour movement campaign to get resources by taxing the rich and expropriating the banks, not a joint Labour-Tory plea for adjustments.

Although union leaders have accepted another year of less than inflation pay raises, as well as cuts of hundreds of thousands of council jobs, things could be changing in the biggest local government workers' union, Unison.

Unison branches from some of the councils facing the most significant cuts (including Manchester, Birmingham, Liverpool, and Nottingham) have won support from 30% of the union's branches for a special conference to debate strategy over this year's pay dispute.

The fight against cuts and the fight for decent pay are inextricably linked. The unions fail to defend local services for the same reason that they fail to deliver a strategy to win decent pay.

Unions and Labour Parties should demand that Labour councils refuse to make cuts. Unions should support their members who are local councillors in making a stand against cuts.

And if Labour councils won't fight the Tories, then unions and communities must fight the Labour councils.

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