With the Tories stumbling in the wake of Theresa’s Mayhem, Labour-run Councils now have yet another opportunity to organise a campaign of mass resistance to further Tory cuts to local services. But it seems that the leaders of many such Councils are deliberately blocking attempts to resist austerity.
This week Leicester’s Labour-run City Council announced, not the launch of a united fight-back against Theresa May, but the launch of a consultation on its latest proposed budget cuts. As the Leicester Mercury (December 14) reported:
“The council says it has identified £10 million of cuts it intends to make, but still needs to find a further £20 million, or even £26 million in the worst case scenario.
“It has described its own budget strategy as ‘high risk’.
“In 2013/14, 44 per cent of the council’s income came from the Government in the form of a revenue support grant. Next year that will shrink to 11 per cent – £28.4 million.”
In response to this needless cuts agenda, Council UNISON representative Gary Garner explained to the Mercury:
“We always knew we would face massive cuts but this is going to be murder. Where on earth can £20 million more savings be found. He (the mayor) doesn’t know. He hasn’t got a clue. He’s a rabbit in the headlights ordering managers to go round slashing their departments without know the impact. It will devastate services which have already been ground to bits.”
Although unmentioned by the Mercury, earlier this year UNISON presented an elegant solution to the ongoing conundrum facing Leicester City Mayor Sir Peter Soulsby. UNISON pointed out that the Council could draw upon money held in their reserve accounts so they could then refuse to make any further Tory cuts. The union sensibly suggested that we must now demand that our cities…
“Labour councillors instruct the council’s finance officers to investigate utilising a total of £142 million of our city’s general reserves… to temporarily stop cutbacks, in order to launch a mass campaign to win the money back from central government.” (“No Cuts” Budget Proposal, February 2017, p.9)
However, some months have passed since UNISON submitted this report, and now more accurate data concerning the Council’s state of financial affairs has come to light. This new information means that the amount of money potentially available to use that exist within our city’s general reserves is now £135 million. This is obviously still a sizable amount of money that could be put to good use in protecting services and lives in Leicester.
Unfortunately, the Mercury seems to have forgotten about UNISON’s prior suggestions and instead simply repeated the City Mayor’s tricky assertions regarding the availability of Council reserves. Thus, in response to their own rhetorical question, “But the council’s got millions of pounds squirrelled away in reserves?”, the Mercury answered: “It does, but they won’t last.”
This is because, following the misdirection of Soulsby, the report only focused on the existence of part of the available reserves: £17.4 million (which is the remainder of the Council’s so-called “managed reserves” strategy) and a further £15 million “which has been kept as a contingency fund and will only be used in an emergency.” A grand total of £32.4 million.
Those paying attention will have noticed that £100 million is still “squirrelled away in reserves.” This is money that Soulsby would prefer that the public not discuss, but nevertheless this is money that rests within the Council’s accessible reserves, and so this is money that could be used if the Council showed the political will to take on the Tories.
Of course even that amount wouldn’t last forever. But it would allow plenty of time to build a massive campaign from the people of Leicester to force the money from the government. The recent success of the Glenfield Children’s Heart Centre campaign proves it’s possible to win battles if thousands of people are actively involved in it. Imagine if all Labour cities in the country coordinated such a campaign.
Now more than ever we need a Labour Council that takes a socialist lead from Jeremy Corbyn. Indeed, as UNISON’s no-cuts budget report concluded:
“Sir Peter Soulsby has made a variety of excuses for why his Council will not, and apparently cannot, fight the cuts. One of his most regularly cited excuses relates to the threat of Government Commissioners being sent in to take over any Council who defy the government. But let’s be realistic about this risk, it only applies to Councils that set illegal budgets, which is not what is being suggested here.
“Councillors should call upon other Local Authorities to join them in refusing to vote for cuts and build an opposition along with the trade unions and community organisations that can defeat the cuts. This is entirely possible, but it would take an effort to build. Leicester UNISON City branch would support any councillor all the way if they adopted this fighting stance of taking the side of employees, trade union members and the people of Leicester against the cuts.”