Wales TUC support for council No Cuts budgets a big boost for anti-austerity fightback
The Wales TUC has become the latest trade union organisation to come out in support of a fighting strategy that could roll back the attack on local public services.
At the Wales TUC conference last week (24-26 May) a composited motion was unanimously passed calling on Welsh councils - mainly Labour or Plaid Cymru-led - to set no-cuts budgets, using legal measures such as prudential borrowing, use of reserves, and capitalisation.
Taking such a step, the motion went on, "buys time for councils to build a campaign of mass resistance with other councils, the Wales TUC, anti-cuts campaigners and local communities" to force proper government funding of council services. The full text of the composite motion passed is printed below.
This decision follows the stand taken earlier this year by the national bodies representing council workers in the UNISON and UNITE unions, which also called for Labour councils to set no cuts budgets by using their reserves and borrowing powers as the first step to making the Tories back down from their assault on local government (see http://www.tusc.org.uk/17175/08-02-2016/union-opposition-to-council-cuts-grows-but-labour-councils-plan-more-job-losses).
The growing trade union support for a local government fightback is a vindication of the argument that the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) has been patiently making in our electoral campaigns. Councillors don't just have to implement the Tory cuts and austerity is a political choice in the council chamber as much as it is in Westminster.
Without exaggerating TUSC's role in this development, it was significant that the motions agreed by the UNITE and UNISON committees, referred to in the Wales TUC motion, quoted research on council reserves that had only been published by TUSC, in November last year (see http://www.tusc.org.uk/txt/350.pdf).
It certainly sets the battleground in the run up to next year's council budget-setting meetings and the 2017 local elections, when all the seats in every council in Wales are up for election. Let's see where candidates stand in action as well as in words.
Wales TUC conference 2016
Composite E - Local Government Finance
The TUC 'Economic Quarterly' in February reported that 30,000 public sector jobs have been lost in Wales since 2010.
Many of these public sector job losses have taken place in Welsh councils. Thousands more local government workers will lose their jobs or see them outsourced if Welsh councils continue to vote for cuts on the current scale. The Tories wish on behalf of their rich friends to dismantle, destroy or outsource local government services. It is not inconceivable that shortly the only services that local authorities will be able to run from their budgets are statutory services.
We are systematically losing our leisure, sports, arts and community provision. Services such as Citizens Advice and other charities who relied on core funding from local authorities to draw down match funding from other sources will disappear, leaving the most vulnerable, poor and disabled with no services.
Wales is already a poor country in comparison to other areas within the UK and has more areas qualifying for European funding in West Wales and the Valleys than any other part of Britain.
We cannot allow the Tories to turn Wales into a public sector desert. But many of these job losses and much of the outsourcing in Wales takes place in councils led by parties that claim to be 'anti-austerity'. Unfortunately the Labour Welsh Assembly Government has meekly passed on these devastating cuts and to date local authorities have passively implemented cuts that will seriously impact on the well-being of communities across Wales.
The new administration in Cardiff Bay must now stand up to Westminster and demand a better deal for its citizens. It must revisit its provisional settlements to local authorities and fund them properly because if action is not taken now straight after the election, Westminster will see them as weak and treat Wales with further contempt over coming years.
Recently the way to fight back was shown by both UNITE Local Government Committee and UNISON Local Government Service Group Executive who have voted to call on councils, including those led by Labour or Plaid Cymru, to set legal no-cuts budgets.
A no cuts budget is a legal and prudent budget that uses reserves, borrowing, capitalisation, etc to prevent cuts. While this is not a permanent solution, it buys time for councils to build a campaign of mass resistance with other councils, the Wales TUC, anti-cuts campaigners and local communities.
1. Calls upon the Wales TUC General Council to enter into negotiations with the newly-elected Welsh Government immediately on behalf of employees of local authorities to revisit the funding of local authorities and to impress upon them the need to enter into negotiations immediately with the Westminster government to find a fairer way to fund Wales than the Barnett Formula which is woefully inadequate;
2. Instructs the Wales TUC General Council to publicly state our conviction that council cuts and outsourcing in Wales can be halted if councils take measures including using reserves, capitalising eligible general fund expenditure, and prudential borrowing to generate resources;
3. Calls on councils of all parties in Wales that claim to be against austerity to set legal no-cuts budgets, utilising the measures outlines in point 2 above;
4. Pledges support for councillors prepared to vote for this position;
5. Recognises that this can only buy time to build a mass campaign, uniting trade unionists and service users in defence of council jobs and services and therefore instructs the Wales TUC General Council to take steps to build that campaign, including calling an all-Wales demonstration against council cuts and outsourcing.
The arguments on what councils can do to resist the cuts, based on the experiences of TUSC-supporting councillors, are developed in the briefing pack, Preparing a No Cuts People's Budget (see http://www.tusc.org.uk/txt/355.pdf).