Leicester’s Labour City Council is faced with a massive crisis. This is a funding crisis, but first and foremost it is a crisis of leadership that threatens to destroy our city. I say this because the two most senior Labour Party representatives in our city – Sir Peter Soulsby and Rory Palmer — continue to misrepresent and distort the very reasonable pleas from Unison (the city’s biggest trade union) to fight the Tories, while simultaneously publicly opposing the principled leader of their own party, Jeremy Corbyn.
Unison and GMB with the support of the Leicester and District Trades Council have a simple demand: work alongside the public and the city’s trade unions and “refuse to carry through further Tory cuts by setting a legal ‘no cuts’ budget for the duration of the next three years.” (“No Cuts” Budget Proposal, February 2017)
On Wednesday’s night’s budget setting meeting, the entire Labour group, with the support of the single Tory councillor, backed a budget that ignored the trade union movement and agreed to carry through further cuts in Leicester over the coming years.
City Mayor Sir Peter Soulsby in moving his terrifying budget of cuts acknowledged that “the scale the cuts… are absolutely unprecedented in the whole history of British local government.” He also explained that the cuts would hit our city’s most vulnerable residents.
Sir Peter cynically added how the Council was “very grateful for the input” everyone who had contributed to the discussion surrounding the budget, “particularly from the trade unions representing the workforce of the Council.” But so far he has totally ignored the content of Unison’s clearly stated “no cuts” budget proposal – not even deeming it worthy of a response of any kind, other than derision that is — he repeatedly refers to the proposal as “pure fantasy”.
Sir Peter thus concluded that the Council must “act responsibly, and to, as far as we are able, protect the people of Leicester from the savage cuts that the Tory government are throwing at us.” By acting responsibly he therefore meant he was forced to distort the ideas behind setting a no-cuts budget, and move to set a budget that will effectively destroy local government.
Sir Peter’s motion was then seconded by his assistant Deputy Mayor Rory Palmer, who admitted: “We are steering in ship amidst a perfect storm” of Tory cuts. Rory Palmer’s solution: write a letter and lobby the Tories to ask them to stop lying and destroying local government – something that he does every year and has absolutely no chance of achieving anything for the people of Leicester.
The only other significant contribution to the budget “debate” then came from Councillor Ross Willmott, who simply poo-pooed Unison’s no cuts proposal and showed no signs of having read or understood it as he simply repeated Sir Peter’s devious misrepresentations.
Councillor Willmott began by stating: “As has been said very eloquently by the City Mayor and the Deputy City Mayor this is indeed a disastrous budget.” On that he is certainly in agreement with the public and the trade union movement. But he then said that if the Council was to oppose the cuts, as suggested by Unison, then this too “would be a total disaster…” But it is only a disaster because he failed to understand the words in the Unison proposal, which clearly said there was enough money available to avoid disaster for at least the next three years. Unison’s idea being that if the city could stave off making cuts until 2020 while simultaneously launching a nationwide campaign against cuts, then a Labour government would no doubt be elected. This Labour government could then in turn reinstate all the money that had been stolen from local authorities over the previous decade.
So to present Unison’s strategy as a “total disaster” Councillor Willmott simply regurgitated Sir Peter’s mantra that the union’s proposal was to “blow every penny in the bank over the next 12 to 18 months” (February 15, Leicester Mercury). So, as evidently-illiterate Councillor Willmott “explained” at the Council meeting:
“We could, as Unison asks us, use up all the reserves and we’d have no cuts this year, and perhaps next year, but the following year this would be a total disaster because the Government would still be there and we’d have to make even bigger cuts because we do not have that money. That my Lord Mayor is not acting responsibly, that is simply stepping aside and not actually offering up the best that we can do for people.”
The hypocrisy is appalling. Councillor Willmott is saying that to even consider the potential of opposing cuts over the next three years is “simply stepping aside and not actually offering up the best that we can do for people.” On the other hand, he believes that carrying through devastating cuts and misrepresenting Unison’s budget proposal is somehow giving the people of Leicester the best the Council can offer!
This illogical argument is similar to a position supported by two other local Labour councillors the day prior to the meeting, who tweeted on social media that “those asking for no cuts budgets are letting Tories off the hook.” The two councillors in question, Councillor Vijay Singh Riyait and Councillor Susan Barton, have deluded themselves into believing that it is Unison’s no cuts proposal (a proposal that aims to kickstart a genuine fightback against Tory cuts) that is at fault, not their own cuts budget and letter-writing supplication before a weak and divided Tory government!
None of this is too unexpected given the uninspiring prior track-record of our Labour City Council. But what this uninspiring Labour inaction in the face of the government’s “unprecedented” attack on local service provision does show us, is that we must organise amongst ourselves to force our councillors to change their minds if we are to ever save our city from the Tories.