On Thursday 21 March, “members of the Labour-run council took part in a debate triggered by a petition signed by 1,590 people wanting to stop the authority slashing £2.2 million from its £6.6 million budget for tackling homelessness.”
Having initiated the petition — which Streetlife Action Group had worked hard to publicize — David Brazier, chief executive of Shelter Housing Aid and Research project (Sharp) called on the council “to do everything it can to prevent homelessness in the city”. But unfortunately when he concluded his allotted 5 minute presentation, he seceded critical ground to the council, finishing by saying:
“The key to this issue is not how much money the council is proposing to spend on homelessness services. That is important but it is not the crucial issue. The crucial issue is how can the council actually prevent so many people from becoming homeless in the first place, and that is where its powers and its responsibilities lie.”
But contrary to this statement, money as always is actually the crucial factor at stake. The council plan to reduce the budget for their general fund by a whopping £11 million by 2014/15, with the hardest hit section being homelessness services, which amount to £2.2 million of the proposed cuts. That is, the Labour-run council is cutting the most money from services rendered to the most vulnerable sector of society.
In a ludicrous statement Cllr Lynn Moore, who leads the scrutiny commission on the review of the homelessness cuts, said the commission were “very encouraged” that Cllr Andy Connelly had made clear “that the budget would be driven by the strategy rather than the other way round.” Something that Cllr Connelly felt the urge to blandly repeat during the discussion.
However, as explained by other Councillors, homelessness is a growing problem in Leicester, and it is impossible to see how slashing service provision will help anyone. For instance, Cllr Sundip Meghani said:
“Under this government there have also been huge 30% increase in the number of people being placed in short-term B&B accommodation, not to mention the welfare cuts, the shared room rates, the bedroom tax, cuts to local authority funding, increased rents. All of these ingredients are a recipe for disaster.”
Knowing full well that some 200 hostel beds are being cut, he added, “I hope that any reduction in supply is directly linked to a drop in demand.” So despite just a minute earlier having noted that there was growing demand for hostel places, amazingly he felt able to conclude: “Overall I support the intention behind the policy change which is reasonable, but it must be done in a way that is fair and responsible.”
Cllr Paul Westley was more precise on the matter of demand for hostel places, saying: “When these benefit cuts start coming in from April, we are going to see homelessness rise and rise and rise, because people cannot afford to keep the roof over their heads.” Here one might observe that Cllr Westley was perhaps the most supportive Labour member speaking to the petition, thus in no uncertain terms he said:
“[U]ntil you have something in place you do not cut and attack the vulnerable people. You get things in place to make sure preventative measures are working first, and then work to bring down as much homelessness as possible. You don’t just cut the bed spaces without having you know something concrete that these people can go to.”
Cllr Ross Willmott also gave a tear-jerking speech about the brutality of the Con-Dem’s, observing that “as ever it falls to us as a Labour council to stand between the excesses of the cuts of this Tory-led government and the people affected by them.” Making this point, Cllr Willmott seemed to forget the Labour Party’s own commitment to making the same brutal attack on the working-class as the Con-Dem’s, only at a slower pace; while also forgetting that it is within the capacity of the Labour council to oppose all the cuts, and to instead use their ample reserve funds to build a popular campaign to fight against the government.
Apparently keen to do the Tories bidding, Cllr Willmott proposed a motion (agreed upon by the scrutiny commission) that suggested that the council put £1 million back into the homelessness budget. But given the ongoing attacks on the living standards of the working-class in Leicester, surely the scrutiny commission should have been arguing for an increased budget for homelessness services (to meet increased demand): but to no avail, the commission only proposed a defeatist motion that would still see the budget reduced from £6.6 million to £5.4 million.
Yet tragically even as Cllr Willmott talked it became evident that the council’s attacks on homelessness provision were even more savage than most people expected. Thus he said: “If we look at the figures, the council’s total spend on homelessness was over £9 million, that is now going to reduce by 2015 to £4 million my Lord Mayor. It is hard to see how in any reasonable judgement that you can improve a service by cutting it by more than 52 per cent.” 
In conclusion, Cllr Andy Connelly’s mealy-mouthed response in the debate was useless to say the least. Apparently, he would have the public believe the lie that the cuts to homelessness provision are being carried out for their own good, that is, to tackle the root cause of the homelessness no less. Of course the cuts proposed, he informs us, have nothing to do with money: the homelessness budget allegedly being driven by a uncompromising strategy dedicated to social justice, and not by financial concerns.
All of this nonsense and double-talk is to be expected given the propensity of other Labour council’s around the country to expel councillors who challenge the lie that Labour council’s must pass on Con-Dem cuts. So it was no surprise when the “packed public gallery at the Leicester Town Hall jeered City mayor Sir Peter Soulsby when he said he could not support a motion by Labour city councillor Ross Willmott to put £1 million back into the homelessness budget.”
In the face of Labour’s uncompromising attacks on the vulnerable, Streetlife Action Group have vowed to press on with their campaign to force the council to back down on their immoral position vis-a-vis the need for cuts.
Having already secured most of the signatures for the council “debate” Streetlife now aim to get out on the streets again with a new petition to force another debate in the Town Hall. They also want members of the public to join them in a three-day long sleep-out on the steps of the Town Hall (starting at 8pm, 17 April) to show the council (again) what Leicester will look like if their vicious assault on the homelessness budget is carried out.
If you want to get involved contact Streetlife at http://www.facebook.com/pages/Streetlife-action-group-1001/122058407965769
 Cllr Willmott even managed to give an anti-democratic spiel about the efficiency of the Tories “Big Society” which will have vital government services run by volunteers instead of democratically elected councils and paid employees. As Cllr Willmott’s troublesome argument went: “We know that for every £1 of council money we spend, to us as a Council, we get £1 of service, but when you spend £1 in the voluntary sector it is estimated that it could be up to £2 of value in service because of the extra value brought about by volunteers and by good will which we as a local authority are not always able to achieve because of the legal constraints upon us.”