Labour Councils and Cuts: What can be done?
Richard Watts has an interesting piece up on LabourList today, discussing how Labour Councils should respond to the Governments spending cuts. I’m sure that Labour Groups around the country have been discussing this for some time, but I’m glad Richard is discussing a possible approaches more publicly, after all, cuts to local government will be just as much of an issue as cuts to centralised infrastructure, and the Party, and the broader movement needs to contemplate how this will be handled.
It’s interesting to consider the role of Labour councils in this process of savage spending cuts. The Party has a strong presence in Local Government, Labour Councillors possibly have more of an opportunity to limit the effects of cuts, than members of the Parliamentary Labour Party do. Labour MP’s aren’t setting the terms from opposition, and lack any real input on the agenda, whereas Labour Councillors, as Richard points out, are the ones making the final decisions in many areas, and as such can exercise a certain amount of discretion.
Now I know a lot of lefties aren’t going to like this idea, but we must accept that Labour Councils are going to have to make cuts, and we should be ready to contribute to a debate about how we can implement cuts forced on us by central government, whilst attempting to limit the effects on the most vulnerable.
Now of course there are calls from some sections of the left for some kind of “no surrender” policy from local councils, along the lines of that attempted by Militant in Liverpool;
There are some, largely in groups linked to the Socialist Workers Party, calling on councils to ‘resist’ the cuts by setting illegal budgets. But along this road madness lies. Aside from the illegality of setting an unbalanced budget, local authorities doing this would very quickly just run out of money; services would collapse and the losers would be the most vulnerable who depend most on council services. If councils run out of money to pay for meals on wheels, it won’t be middle class Trots that go hungry.
Whilst I’m not keen on the “middle class Trots” jibe, I agree with Richard’s point that setting illegal rates are bound to fail, both financially and politically.
Opposition is all well and good, and I don’t want to give the impression I am discouraging any kind of protest. But we must accept that these cuts are happening, and occupations, marches etc. are only going to help weaken the Government over a period of time, as opposed to actually reversing the initial decisions. Perhaps I’m being pessimistic, I’m sure that’s what more Militant Comrades will say anyway, but it’s what I think.
It will also be the responsibility of local Labour Parties to make sure the people in their areas know who is responsible for these cuts to services that are coming, we can’t let the Tories shift the blame to local government!
So how might Labour Councils protect the most vulnerable as I have said above? How do you decide what is more important when the choice is the local library or funded leisure activities for unhealthy kids?
And obviously the only problem isn’t the loss of services, but loss of jobs too. The economy in some areas completely depends on the Council for employment, either directly or indirectly, and sadly again, Job losses just can’t be completely ruled out!
This reminds me of a story my Grandma told me recently, about her time working for the local Council during the 80’s recession. The local leader of the Labour Council Roy Oldham, (who sadly has just passed away) gathered all the Council’s employees at a local football ground, and discussed the possibility of people taking a pay cut as opposed to redundancy. The staff appreciated his candour, and agreed to lose a small amount of their monthly wages, on the condition it would be repaid to them during better times.
This is an example of the kind of things labour councils could be doing to, and we shouldnt shy away from discussing such things in the interest of the greater good.
But no one approach will be appropriate in every area, and now is the time to start considering what we exactly can be done.