In recent months local Labour Party city councillor Bill Shelton (Saffron ward) has published two letters in the Leicester Mercury, both of which highlight the attacks on public services that are being undertaken by our Tory Government, which unfortunately are still being carried through at a local level by our Labour Council.
Mr Shelton’s first letter, “So pleased that centre was saved,” congratulated the Saffron Resource Centre for having “been successful in their lottery bid for further funding” (September 23, Mercury).
As reported in an earlier Mercury article “Last-chance lottery saves cash-starved advice centre” (September 16), the Saffron Resource Centre had lucked-out when they obtained a £412,000 from the lottery — which a senior worker at the centre said would prevent their closure and enable their work to continue for another five years.
“The Saffron Resource Centre, which was set up 35 years ago, has seen its total income decline year on year since 2008 because of austerity,” noted the Mercury. The report added: “The £60,000 a year it gets from Leicester City Council is also about to be reviewed, which made this year critical.”
Indeed, the uncertainty of the centre’s future meant that their latest lottery application was actually seen by their workers as “a final roll of the dice.” With lottery funding unlikely to be extended in the future, the future funding of the centre is still a tragedy waiting to happen. The senior worker quoted in the article explained:
“The drop in income has been happening at the same time our services have been more in need than before. Typically we help a lot of people who are out of work and on benefits but recently we’ve been seeing massive amounts of in-work poverty, which is people who have jobs but have seen their rents rise quickly and their salaries fall behind inflation.” (September 16, Mercury)
On the flip-side of the Centre’s success, other vital community groups in Leicester, like for example Network For Change, have been unable to obtain lottery funds, and are now facing the threat of closure. Of course, there is no questioning the idea that the imminent demise of much-needed local organisations like Network For Change is linked, as Mr Shelton put it, to “the vicious and Draconian policies that this Government is inflicting on this country.”
After attending a meeting that took place in his ward, Mr Shelton explained that “the feedback given by local community workers was horrendous in detail about the problems people are suffering” (September 23 letter). In a more recent letter to the Mercury (“Look at the reasons behind the cuts,” October 21) Mr Shelton described how the Tory government is making “horrifying cuts to councils all over the country (especially Labour-controlled councils).” He continued:
“The city council is being starved of millions of pounds year on year and very difficult decisions have to be made.”
But Labour-controlled councils across the country fail to fight the Tories by refusing to carry through their “vicious” and “horrifying cuts”! Instead councillors like Mr Shelton seem content in just pointing the finger at the Tories and then agreeing (reluctantly) to cut funding for community organisations, and then writing to the newspaper about it.
Finally, Mr Shelton ended his latest letter by observing how “some of the demonstrators outside of the [Leicester] Town Hall” on the day he and his Labour Council discussed cutting funding for adventure playgrounds “knew who the culprits were by holding banners opposing the Government’s cuts.” Yes, of course they did: they were pointing the finger at Mr Shelton and his Labour Council and demanding that they refuse to cut local services.
Most of the placards at the protest said things like “Cuts mean we close,” “Don’t give up on our kids,” “Think before you throw it away,” “Don’t close the playgrounds,” “No to cuts,” “Save our playground,” “Stop playing with our future” and quite firmly “Don’t even think about shutting us down!!”
I imagine the single placard that Mr Shelton was thinking of was the one that read “Say no to Tory cuts.” But he perhaps misunderstood the words as this was a demand for the Labour Council to refuse to make Tory cuts. What the placard certainly didn’t say was “I know Tory cuts are to blame… and so Labour will just have close our playgrounds!”
If Mr Shelton had looked still more closely he would have seen my own placard which read “We need a Labour Council that fight all cuts, not one that cuts Leicester’s services!”