Faced with massive ongoing government-driven funding cuts which are quite clearly destroying people’s lives, our Labour Council has two options.
- OPTION 1 could involve verbally opposing these cuts, and then working to organise a city-wide fightback to demand that Leicester receives the funding it needs to continue to provide vital public services.
- OPTION 2 means that the Council acts to verbally oppose Tory funding cuts, and then carries through these cuts while pretending that OPTION 1 does not, and never did, ever exist.
Shamefully, Leicester’s 52 Labour councillors have plumped for OPTION 2. But in order to carry through their planned cuts to local services, the Council have taken the additional step of redefining cuts as “savings,” and refer to their proposed “savings” as if there were having some sort of positive effect on local service provision.
One way that the Council aims to “save” money is by getting rid of buildings they own and by squeezing the services that used to be provided within those premises into other buildings. Another ill-informed way to make “savings” is for the Council to transfer responsibility for running services to local communities through Community Asset Transfers. This requires that the Council sack the experienced full-time employees who currently provide vital public services, and may include the sale or rental of the buildings in question to the local community. No source of funding is guaranteed to the new “lucky” chosen service providers — volunteers often take the place of paid staff, and service provision most definitely suffers.
Naturally, considering the unnecessary decision that Leicester Council has embarked upon in choosing to implement Tory cuts, when a local community decides that they want to prevent the disposal of a building, or save Council-run facilities, the Council is left in quite an awkward position. The latest consultation on the future of Rushey Mead library has presented just this problem.
The Council “consulted” the Rushey Mead community what they wanted: the community replied that they loved and cherished their (already meagre) Council-run services — a small recreation centre and a small library. The Council then proposed that they “save” the library by demolishing it, and then move a small portion of the old library into an already heavily-used recreation centre.
The community demonstrated their opposition at such nonsense at a series of brilliantly well-attended public meetings/protests, and the Council decided to ignore the community and go ahead with their planned “savings”. Five Labour councillors then officially opposed the Council’s dire decision, which led to a special debate at the Council’s next “Overview Select Committee” meeting. Subsequently all the Labour Party chairs of the Council’s various different scrutiny commissions for local services ignored the well-made arguments of the Rushey Mead community and voted to press ahead with the proposed cuts!*
The thirty or so people in attendance at the overview meeting then promptly walked out the meeting shouting out that the entire process had been “a disgrace”, and that they would “protest heavily on this issue!” The question to the Council then has to be: why don’t they attempt to harness such widespread anger at cuts to local services by refusing to carry out any more cuts to local services? Given the widespread resistance to cuts, adopting the aforementioned and inspiring OPTION 1 and ditching the depressing OPTION 2 is surely something our Labour Council should at least consider?
Luckily enough the basic idea for opposing all cuts was raised during last week’s overview meeting. While making the case against the closure of Rushey Mead library, which would only save the Council between £5,000 and £14,000 a year, local Councillor Ross Willmott suggested that the Council could…
“…find the money from elsewhere. I suggest that following the City Mayor’s lead, he has already taken £645,000 out of the Highways Maintenance budget, it would be very easy to take £14,000 out to keep Rushey Mead library open. That wouldn’t be difficult at all, the budget [for Highways Maintenance] is £10 million we are talking about.”
The Council, however, has £142 million in General Reserves which can potentially be drawn upon to prevent further cuts to any existing services provided by the Council. As a result of Tory funding cuts, the Council believes they still need to cut £45 million a year from local spending – a total of £135 million over three years. So it is a happy coincidence that the Council actually has, in the short-term at least, the adequate reserves to make no cuts to services, that is, if they were willing to pursue the aforementioned OPTION 1.
But of course if we can encourage our Council to explore this refreshing option, then there are many other additional ways of raising money, other than just temporarily drawing upon their reserves. And needless to say, if and when a Labour government is elected (within the next three years, if not sooner) there would be no question that the government could simply replenish our Council’s reserves, and the city would be better off as our public services will not have been sold-off and closed!
Labour Party councillors voting to support the closure of the library included: Deepak Bajaj, Virginia Cleaver, Elly Cutkelvin, Vi Dempster, Jean Khote, Mustafa Malik, Dr Lynn Moore, Paul Newcombe, and Baljit Singh (Chair).