Politics, anyone? First off, a quick mention of the election results on Thursday: the Conservatives held both County and Borough seats, pretty much as expected. Turnout was a pitiful 25% and 27% respectively. I’m getting closer and closer to believeing compulsary voting is the answer.
Anyhows, with all the excitement of the Wilkos petition I didn’t get round to mentioning the Borough Budget that took place that evening, and the bizarre nature of proceedings.
I’d been expecting a mammoth session as the proposals were argued in great detail; I’d even packed a flask, but to my surprise the tories instantly agreed to endorse the Lib/Lab proposals. A weird outbreak of cordiality in the chamber; which with the near-unianimity backing the Wilkos petition earlier made for a starnge love-in. My notes on the night have a scrawled ‘GET A ROOM’, possibly written while Councillors fawned over each other in this strange debate. Unless the Council are slipping MDMA in the Councillors mineral water, something strange is afoot.
To shed some light, I requested a few words from three councillors why they voted the way they did. Why was a Lib/Lab budget accepted by the Conservatives, opposed by three Labour Councillors, and recieved an abstention from the only Independant?
I asked Richard Jackson (Conservative); Steve Carr (erstwhile Lib Dem, now a Social Democrat) and Greg Marshall (Labour) why they voted the way they did in this topsy-turvy manner. I’m still waiting for Cllr. Jackson’s piece so we’ll start with Steve then hand over to Greg:
It was interesting to see the Conservatives support the budget at Broxtowe for the first time I can remember. Times are very difficult and even Labour’s national leadership are begining to appreciate that if they were in power, they would be doing little different to the Coalition. Those that did not support the budget were myself and the hard-left in the Labour group, who are becoming an increasing thorn in the side of their moderate Group leadership. Their spin on this is that the economic crisis is entirely the fault of the banks. That is partly the case but of course the reality was that Labour when in office took a light-touch approach to bank regulation and welcomed top bankers to Downing Street with open arms. Labour must take considerable blame for the economic mess we are in and stop treating this fact as if they were on the quiz show Room 101! I did not vote for the budget for entirely parochial reasons. I represent many council tenants and simply put, I could not and would not vote for an increase in rents of 8.6%. Many that I represent simply can not afford this. I was subjected to a tirade of reasons why I should support the rise from Labour councillors – something I found a little surreal. I abstained because I did like the fact that the Liberal Democrats had forced Labour to accept a freeze in council tax – something that the hard-left are very angry about.
Over to Cllr. Marshall:
Washing one’s hands of the conflict between the powerful and the powerless means to side with the powerful, not to be neutral.” (Paulo Freire)
On 29th February, Broxtowe Borough Council passed a budget in the face of a £845,000 (12.5%) of formula grant from Central Government. It is part of the overall cut of 27% to the “formula grant” from Whitehall over the next four years – and part of the government’s overall national spending cuts totaling more than £80 billion over four years.
These government-imposed cuts have inevitably impacted on jobs and services and the living standards of ordinary working people, whether council employees or council tenants, will be hit.
- Although no compulsory redundancies are proposed, the employee savings target of £180,000 comes on top of the loss of 44 full-time posts and 32 part-time posts deleted since April 2008 (and a reduction in hours for a further 27 posts). So-called “back office” jobs support front line services;
- The changes to the car allowance scheme will mean a worsening in terms and conditions for more than 250 Council staff;
- Charges will now be made for a gardening service for council tenants who, because of disability or age-related reasons, are unable to look after their gardens. This previously free service was available to elderly or disabled tenants who do not have a relative living within three miles of their home;
- By following government guidelines on rent increases, council house rents will rise by 8.6% – those tenants not on housing benefit will need to find another £5 a week or more than £20 per month; and
- Accepting the council tax freeze grant instead of increasing Council Tax and foregoing the one-off grant will create a budget hole (and mean further cuts) next year (in 2013/14).
But all this comes at a time when the government is weakened, economically, socially and politically. Indeed, Osborne’s economic perspectives lie in ruins. Unemployment is at a 16-year high with female unemployment at 1.1 million, the worst in 23 years. Youth unemployment is approaching the highest ever on record. The TUC estimates that the real unemployment figure is 6.3 million if part-time workers and those who have dropped out of looking for work completely are included. Osborne predicted growth of 2.3% last year which turned out to be only 0.3%!
In other words, Britain’s economy is unstable and in the grip of stagnation and there is no possibility of Osborne’s private sector – the famous phoenix arising from the ashes of the public sector – rescuing the situation. The ‘phoenix’ of a revived private manufacturing base is now reduced to ninth position in the world manufacturing league and has already flown to China and elsewhere, sadly never to return.
The Con-Dems’ policies have severely contracted the economy and unemployment has begun to climb. They claim that this is a ringing endorsement of their destructive deflationary programme! Moreover, the injection of a huge £325 billion of quantitative easing by the Bank of England, while preventing an outright slump, has done nothing to fundamentally change the situation. Larry Elliott of the Guardian writes: “At the current rate of progress it will take until the hundredth anniversary of the outbreak of the first world war before regaining the lost ground. Those seven lost years will have cost the UK economy around £200 billion in output”. Truly capitalism is a ‘progressive’ system!
In recent months, this has been on full display. The vilification and scapegoating of the poor, those compelled to exist on benefits, including the disabled, has reached new depths. Cameron has shamelessly presented a picture of ‘benefit scroungers’ receiving as much as £26,000 a year, while hiding the fact that, in the very few cases where sums like this are paid out, 70-80% of the benefits are taken by rack-renting landlords.
Some disabled people, the long-term sick, are now being forced to work unpaid for a limited amount of time or their benefits will be cut. Disabled people have been singled out in shopping malls and elsewhere for vilification, with some tipped out of wheelchairs by those whipped up by the demagogic campaign of Cameron and Osborne.
Who is being hit by these cuts?
Many ordinary working people are being hit by these cuts – and the poorest and most vulnerable in society are being hit the hardest. The government’s public spending cuts will hit the UK’s poorest 10% of people 13 times harder than they will affect the richest 10%. The government says that these spending cuts are necessary to deal with the deficit and that we are all in this together. Yet the bankers who caused the crisis and had to be bailed out by the tax payer are continuing to pay themselves multimillion pound bonuses.
While hardworking families struggle with pay and job cuts – public sector workers have just been told their pay is being frozen for a third year and communities lose vital local services, bankers at the 82% taxpayer-owned bank RBS just received bonuses worth £785 million even though the bank is still making a loss. A reward for failure.
The witch-hunt of the poor and defenceless is destined to go on but will be resisted. And 94% of government cuts and 88% of benefit cuts have yet to be implemented. Thousands of families from inner-city areas have been effectively expelled to the outskirts, Cameron appears determined to carry through the government’s pro-business NHS.
There is an alternative:
Instead of cutting public sector jobs and services the government should:
- Create jobs to boost the economy and cut the deficit – in areas that badly need investment, such as housing, renewable energy and public transport;
- Take action to close the £120 billion tax gap of evaded, avoided and uncollected tax;
- Introduce a Robin Hood Tax: A modest 0.05% tax on global financial transactions applied to UK financial institutions it would raise an estimated £20–30bn per year. This alone would reduce the annual deficit by between 12.5% and 20%; and
- Scrap Trident. The Methodist Church, the Baptist Union of Great Britain and the United Reformed Church have launched a campaign calling upon the Government to ditch its Trident nuclear weapons. They argue that the Government could save £55bn by axing the programme and invest the money instead in public services, employment and national security.