Friday, 1 March 2013

B&H Budget: Fight the Government, Not Council Workers!

Brighton and Hove City Council's latest budget amounts to £17m worth of cuts, an estimated 50 compulsory redundancies and 110 voluntary. This is a total of 170 jobs lost. Over the next 6 years (2013-2019) it is estimated a total of £120m will be cut from the council budget.

The special allowances structure paid to three quarters of B&H council staff will be reviewed with up to £7,000 of take-home pay being lost as a result. Shamefully the council have effectively threatened staff to accept this, with one group facing the sack and re-engagement on worse terms and a deadline of October to accept the changes or have them unilaterally imposed.

These cuts add up to a serious assault on the finances of the council. Over the past three years the council has avoided the shocking cuts made in other local authorities as a result of an underspend in adult and children's services. Nevertheless the past three years have seen some services cut and jobs lost.

Each redundancy, pay and service cut will mean a real impact to the lives of many people. In local government a 0.6% pay offer has been made, on top of years of pay freezes. Many will look back over the past three years and see how their pay has fallen while council tax and other costs have risen.

Ben Duncan, a Green councillor, voted against the budget last night, explaining,

"The budget approved last night puts these cuts [£10.7m reduction in government funding] into practise, and, coming on top of cuts to benefits, Legal Aid for immigration and benefit cases, support for victims of domestic violence, mental health services, the privatisation of much of the NHS, and so on, these cuts, to my mind, represent just another salvo in the Government's ongoing vicious war on the poor and most vulnerable - and, while I am full of respect and admiration for my friends and colleagues who reached a different conclusion, I felt a vote for the budget was, in a meaningful way, a vote for this programme of cuts - and in that context I felt I had to oppose it." Click here for his full statement.

The aim of the Greens to avoid the impact of these cuts falling most heavily on the vulnerable will become harder and harder to achieve. We support Cllr Duncan's decision, but it must be taken further. A fightback is needed - £120m over the next six years will devastate local services. The council is one of the biggest employers in Brighton and Hove. If the past three years have not seen dramatic cuts to local services, the next six will! The special alowqance cuts must be met with industrial action across the council workforce, and a victory can be achieved.

But that will not solve the budget crisis this year or for the next six. A mass campaign must be built to demand a return of the funding that is currently being robbed from the city. That money is being stolen from Brighton and Hove to pay back the debts created by the capitalist crisis. We have described elsewhere how a campaign could be waged, and time and again have challenged the hand-wringing greens who claim such a campaign is not possible. In Southampton two Labour councillors rebelled against their party and proposed a no-cuts budget. They have used their position to build campaigns across their wards and beyond. This is what the Greens should be doing,. Instead they, and Labour, are passing on the Tory and Liberal Democrat cuts.

This budget crisis reveals an even deeper crisis in Britain today: a crisis of political representation. Many feel there is no party worth voting for! None of the parties properly challenge the cuts and the public sector sell-off (with action as well as words). We aim to build a new party for everyone that is suffering or who will suffer as a result of these cuts. It should be an anti-cuts and anti-privatisation party, one that stands up for ordinary people behind the basic principle that together we are strong. We believe the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition is a step towards that and we hope that at the next election candidates will stand alongside us from the trade unions and local campaigns to oppose all cuts and take the fight to the government.