Monday, 27 January 2014

Oppose the Green Party’s Cuts Budget. Referendum does not offer an alternative to cuts: the Green Party threatens 100-150 Jobs and a £20million cut to services!

Brighton and Hove Green Party leader Jason Kitcat wants to follow up last year’s attack on the city’s Bin Workers’ wages with further cuts in the council’s 2014-15 budget.  If successful, this would mean that his administration, elected on a mandate to ‘resist austerity’, has cut £50 million from jobs and services in the city in 3 years. Amazingly the Green Party are trying to spin this attack as an act of ‘resistance’ to central government cuts and are seeking a mandate for their budget, and a 4.75% increase in the council tax, in a referendum that, if it goes ahead which will cost the city almost a quarter of a million pounds to carry out! 
There is no question that the primary responsibility for cuts in local government services lies with the Con-Dem Government’s austerity programme. This has ramped up the onslaught on council budgets after 13 years of attacks under New Labour. The proposal by the Greens to increase council tax by 4.75%, however, is no defence in the face of this attack.

This tax increase would raise £2.75million more than December's draft budget.[1]  But that budget proposed £22.56 million in spending cuts[2]. These threaten the jobs of 100-150 Council workers[3].  In other words the Green Administration would be asking the voters of Brighton to swallow a rise of almost 5% in their council tax bills as the price for still accepting nine tenths of the cuts in jobs and services demanded by Pickles and the Con-Dem government!

These would come on top of £30 million worth of Tory cuts which the Green Party have passed on to workers and service users in the city since coming to power in 2011. Not surprisingly the Tory local government minister Brandon Lewis MP fully supports the Greens’ move.[4] This shows that it is not the case, as Green Party National Leader, Natalie Bennet, has claimed, that: ‘Instead of letting Whitehall impose cuts on vulnerable people in Brighton & Hove, this announcement takes the decision to the people.[5]

By playing along with the spending limits imposed by Pickles and the Millionaire ‘Eton Boot Boys’ in the Con-Dem cabinet, Brighton’s Green Party is ensuring that the only possible outcomes of the referendum are either:
·         Voters reject an increase in council tax bills 2 ½ times the rate of inflation (at a time when real wages are under sustained attack and public and private sector rents and other housing costs are shooting through the roof) and so all £22½ million pounds in cuts demanded by central government go through, 

·         Council tax payers in Brighton bear the brunt of subsidising the cuts in central government spending: the penalty system means that much of the extra council tax will not fund threatened services, but will simply be clawed  back by Central Government. At the same time we will still have to swallow 90p in every £1.00 of Eric Pickles’s cuts to services!

In other words, whatever Natalie Bennett and Jason Kitcat claim, either way, the referendum can only lead to ‘Whitehall imposing cuts on vulnerable people in Brighton and Hove.’  

The referendum would also be a highly divisive exercise in ‘divide and rule’: pitting ‘council tax payers’, against ‘council workers’ and ‘service users’ when the reality is that resisting the cuts requires that we stand united (indeed, most often we are the same people, anyway!).  If we accept the Greens’ ‘dented shield’ analysis, which says that nine-tenths of the cuts are inevitable, we will end up engaging is a vicious ‘race to the bottom’. This would pit education against housing and children’s services against services for older people and the disabled, in a struggle to become the lucky ‘one in ten’ to escape Councillor Kitcat’s axe. Instead we should be standing together and resisting ALL CUTS. 

This is not what is being proposed by The Labour Party. Labour Councillors are proposing a ‘vote of no confidence’ in the Green administration. Not because they are carrying out cuts but because they want to carry out more cuts! Labour want an ‘all party administration’ to implement the Con-Dem coalition’s cuts in full for 2014-15, and for 2015-16. This would inevitably lead to even more losses in jobs and services. 

There is an alternative, which the Socialist Party, the Trade Union and Socialist Coalition (TUSC), Brighton Trades Council and Brighton Stop the Cuts Coalition have urged on the Green Administration since it was first elected. Cuts are only inevitable because our councillors have meekly accepted the restrictions imposed on the City’s budgets by successive Labour and Con-Dem ministers in the interests of big business. Instead, Brighton and Hove Council  should set a ‘needs budget’ and campaign for Central Government to return the £70 million plus which has been cut from central government allocations to the city since 2010. 

Imagine; if our councillors explained that adequate funding for Brighton’s schools, bins and recycling (which are still reeling from the ‘settlement’ of last year’s strike and the botched ‘reorganisation’ forced through by Kitcat and senior managers), housing and care services should have priority over the governments’ agenda: tax cuts for the rich, subsidies for fuel companies which raise prices and destroy our environment by ‘fracking’, and imperialist wars in Afghanistan and the Middle East!  This way, Councillors could build a mass movement of resistance and unite council workers, services users and Brighton’s communities to force Pickles to return the money stolen from our city. 

This was what the Socialist Council did in Liverpool in the 1980’s. Not only did they force the Thatcher government to increase funding for services but they expanded the council’s workforce at a time of rising unemployment and built 5,000 new council houses (more than were built by councils in the whole of the rest of England and Wales in the same period!). For this, 47 Labour councillors were surcharged and banned from office. The draconian laws which allowed this to happen no longer apply. The worst which Brighton Councillors defying Pickles’s cuts today would face is being forced to face a new election at which they could defend their strategy: a real ‘referendum on Austerity’ unlike the bogus exercise being entertained by Councillor Kitcat. 

Liverpool Council did raise the rates (the fore-runner to the Council Tax) but only to expand spending and provide new services not to pay for central government’s cuts to the City’s budget, their political honesty won them undying respect from the people of Liverpool. Their willingness to fight and boldly confront the government shows that there is an alternative and, that it would gain mass support, if followed in Brighton three decades on.,-to-protect-citys-vulnerable.html

[1] Guardian 16/1/14.
[2]Budget Update and Savings 2014/15’, Agenda Item 76 policy and resources committee 5th December 2013 (para 3.24)
[3] Ibid, (para 3.33)
[4] Brighton and Hove Green Party website