Ahead of Leicester City Council’s annual budget-setting meeting — held yesterday afternoon — Unison, along with campaigners from the Rushey Mead Action Group, organised an angry and loud lobby to exert pressure on our city’s 52 Labour councillors to do the right thing by voting to oppose service cuts (February 23, Leicester Mercury). As the Mercury reported: “Men, women and children blew whistles, sounded air horns, waved placards and chanted: ‘Soulsby Out.’”
This successful event (which was attended by around 70 people) followed on from a series of brilliantly attended protests that had been initiated by the Rushey Mead community against the proposed closure of their local library, and from Unison’s recent demand for our local councillors to consider the need to oppose all cuts by setting a legal no cuts budget.
Only last week, Unison branch Secretary Gary Garner explained to the Leicester Mercury (February 15):
“Our members and the people of Leicester deserve more than labour politicians who are nothing more than the agents of Tory cuts. If Labour wants to show to the people of Leicester that they are better than the Tories, then they should do everything in their power to prevent further attacks on our city.
“If Leicester’s Labour council choose to fight Tory cuts they can be assured that they will have the full support of Unison Leicester City Branch, and no doubt that of the rest of the city’s many trade unionists. This will enable us to work together, not against one another, in building the necessary grassroots movement which can only serve to help to bring a Labour government to power sooner rather than later.
“Unfortunately, so far, because Leicester’s Labour Group have chosen, albeit reluctantly, to carry through the Tories cuts, they are seen by the public and their employees to be the politicians at fault who are cutting vital public services.”
Speaking to the Mercury reporter outside the budget-setting meeting, in the face of Sir Peter Soulsby’s ongoing distortions of his union’s proposal, Gary found himself reiterating:
“What we have proposed makes sense. What the council has proposed makes no sense. You can see by the number of people, who have taken time to turn out tonight that this matters to people in Leicester.” (February 23, Mercury)
Later while being interviewed by BBC Radio Leicester Gary pointed out how Unison were simply asking the Labour City Council to investigate using the money stored away in their reserves to ease the pressures upon public services until at least 2020. He noted that Sir Peter’s response has been to promote “scaremongering across the Council, with elected Labour members now in fear of speaking out.” As Gary went on to explain:
“One elected member said to me, ‘if only we could Gary, if only we could.’ But the City Mayor says that if they set the budget that we [Unison] are asking for then it would mean the Government taking over the Council, which is nonsense.” (February 22)
Following the brief lobby the Council meeting went ahead, with the two defining features of the meeting being:
- The Council adopted the irresponsible position of ignoring the 4,000 strong petition and presentation from the Rushey Mead Library to prevent the closure of their library; and
- All the Labour Councillors backed a budget that would cut millions from Leicester’s public services in the coming year. In doing so Leicester’s Labour councillor also managed to totally misrepresent the content of Unison’s perfectly legitimate and well-supported no-cuts budget proposal as somehow being irresponsible!
Now the central task that lies ahead for the people of Leicester is for them to unite against Tory cuts and demand that our city councillors do the same! Our city, our services, and much more is at stake, and to stand by while our councillors are asleep at the wheel could only ever be interpreted as an act of gross irresponsibility on our part.