Walsall councillor calls on every councillor to reject cuts programme
LAST WEEK Walsall council began a public consultation on ‘spending priorities for 2013-14’. Speaking of ‘challenging times’ for councils the consultation invite spoke of Walsall facing further cuts of around £67m over the next four years. The accompanying questionnaire asked people to say which council services ‘were most important to them’ and which were ‘less important’ but unsurprisingly did not include the option of saying no to all the cuts.
Walsall councillor Pete Smith then received a letter from Walsall Voluntary Action asking him to comment on the budget consultation. His clear and principled statement of opposition to all cuts in council jobs, services, pay and conditions is reprinted below.
Councillor Pete Smith was elected in Walsall’s Blakenall ward in May this year with 1,025 votes (45.8%) against 1,012 for the Labour candidate and 201 for the Tories. He is a member of the Walsall Democratic Labour Party, part of the TUSC coalition, and will be speaking at the TUSC conference on Saturday 22nd September, 11am-5pm, Room B34, Birkbeck College, Malet Street, London WC1E. All welcome. Registration £5 waged/£2 unwaged.
One Walsall councillor’s response to the consultation on the council’s spending priorities for 2013-14
17th August 2012
To: Elaine Kerr, Senior Administrative Officer, Walsall Voluntary Action.
From: Councillor Pete Smith.
Re: Council spending priorities consultation.
Thank you for your e-mail regarding the council's budget and attempts to engage the wider community in helping to decide where the axe should fall on council services.
With due respect, those who care about public services would be well advised to keep out of this exercise in my opinion. Why should they be so naive as to play a part – even through the indirect way of answering simple questions – in helping to provide £millions of cuts in services alongside a council tax freeze at best (highly unlikely in 2013/14 and beyond) or more likely a significant rise in council tax?
Are we seriously asking the people to legitimise a process whereby they and their fellow citizens will pay more and receive less services, year by year? With respect, count me out. We are NOT all in this together.
My position as a councillor who fought and won the last local election clearly committed to fighting the cuts (being imposed by Conservative, Liberal and Labour councillors all over the country) is as follows and I would encourage as many people as possible to take a similar position, led, hopefully, by Walsall councillors.
The citizens and workers of Walsall Borough, led by their councillors should:
· Oppose all cuts to council jobs, services, pay and conditions - rejecting the claim that 'some cuts' are necessary to our overall services.
· Reject increases in council tax and increases in service charges to compensate for government cuts.
· At each and every opportunity, campaign and vote against the privatisation of council jobs and services, or the transfer of council services to 'social enterprises' or 'arms-length' management organisations, which are first steps to privatisation.
· Use all the legal powers available to councils, including powers to refer local NHS decisions, initiate referenda and organise public commissions and consultations, to oppose both the cuts and government polices which centrally impose the transfer of public services to private bodies.
· When faced with government cuts to council funding, call on councillors to refuse to implement the cuts. Councils should, in the first instance, use their reserves and prudential borrowing powers to avoid passing on the cuts, whilst simultaneously campaigning alongside workers, residents and service users to build up a mass, popular public opposition to the cuts.
· Argue that the best way to mobilise the mass public campaign that is necessary to defeat the cuts, is to set a budget that meets the needs of the local community and demands that the government makes up the shortfall.
· Call on all councillors to stand up and be counted and oppose these cuts. Call on every councillor to refuse to implement government imposed cuts and present the bill for meeting the funding gap back to the government even if this results in the government ‘doing its own dirty work’ by imposing the cuts themselves in Walsall. Today, councillors can no longer be surcharged unless they are found guilty of financial crime for personal gain. Such a stand could shake this coalition into a re-think if carried out by councils across the country, especially Labour run councils who are presently shedding ‘crocodile tears’ before wielding the axe with as much force as Conservative/Liberal led councils. The few Labour councillors across the country who have voted against cuts proposed by a Labour-controlled council faced suspension or expulsion from the party.
· Above all, the most important aspect of all this is to mobilise as many sections of the community as possible to join a mass peaceful and lawful campaign to demand that their elected representatives stand up to the massive and hugely unfair cuts rather than aid and abet their implementation, which is unfortunately what Conservative, Liberal and Labour councillors are doing all across the country.
At least you now know where I stand on the budget and the cuts. Fifty-seven of the present 60 Walsall councillors belong to one of the three main Party Groups and therefore will behave and vote as directed by their party bosses in London (that means implementing the cuts if in control of the council). Only a mass popular, public, legal and peaceful campaign engaging hundreds, even thousands of local citizens, might, just might, bring a change of mind. I would hope the Voluntary Sector would also be very much part of such a public campaign.
Thank you and best wishes,
Councillor Pete Smith
Blakenall Ward, Walsall MBC