Warrington rebel councillor's appeal: 'Don't vote for cuts'
THE WARRINGTON rebel councillor Kevin Bennett, who was suspended from the Labour Party earlier this year for voting against cuts, has issued an Open Letter to Labour councillors in the North West as council budgets for 2014-15 begin to be discussed.
As Kevin says in his letter, councillors don't have to carry out the Con-Dems cuts. This February the Southampton rebel councillors, Keith Morrell and Don Thomas (now members of the TUSC national Steering Committee) presented an alternative budget to their council's budget-making meeting. Their proposals met the legal requirements of a balanced budget at least for the 2013-14 financial year - it was not a 'deficit budget'. Scandalously, however, the Labour councillors refused to even allow it to be debated (see http://www.tusc.org.uk/press180213.php ).
But the fact was they had a choice - councillors don't have to vote for cuts.
An Open Letter to Labour councillors from Cllr Kevin Bennett, Warrington borough council
As we start to review the budgets for 2014/15, I urge you to remember our core values and protect jobs, services, housing and other amenities, for the people who voted for us and the most vulnerable in our society.
Whilst I realise that Labour-led councils in many respects disagree with government policy, nevertheless, Labour councils have become the direct instruments of implementation of the said policy. We are the ones who are actually making the cuts and it is no comfort to those who are losing their livelihoods and services that it is being done by the person they voted for.
The scale of the cuts to come in 2014/15 and 2015/16, on top of the cuts that have already been implemented, means the devastation of public services. This will undermine the ability of councils to defend and promote the well-being of current and future generations and the future of local government itself.
Westminster and council officers tell us that 'there is no alternative' to the current 'austerity' policy. That is simply not true: the majority of economists of all persuasions agree that cuts will not lead to economic recovery. When we are told that we have no alternative to carrying out the instructions of a democratically elected government, we have to remember that the present government has no democratic mandate for its current political course. In fact, in the last general election, the majority of the people voted against the type of policies now being pursued.
We councillors in local government do have the power to resist the government cuts and at the same time to reject the dishonest manipulation of our democratic system that this coalition has followed. We should also support the local government workers' unions claim for fair pay.
The notion that 'there is nothing else we can do', is wrong. Councils have the legal and financial powers to delay cuts by drawing on reserves, using borrowing powers, working with tenants and unions to avoid evictions and privatisations. This can all be done within the law and cannot be over-ruled by central government. None of these policies mean setting a deficit budget, though that in itself is not illegal. It's true that some smaller councils don't have large reserves, but the larger ones do. We should be asking our Finance Directors what are our prudent levels of borrowing. Let's place the blame firmly where it belongs, at the door of the government. There are other strategies that the unions are putting forward that can be discussed. The key is to bring local communities with you: they will rally round if we show them that we are willing to defend them. Remember, if we don't show them bold leadership they will ultimately remove their vote. Most importantly Unite the Union and Unison have a policy that they will support councillors who resist the cuts.
I urge you to reconsider your current position and to work with your colleagues to change the current direction of council policy. Please don't turn your back on the people who depend upon you and fight for the mandate you were elected upon - but most of all fight for what you believe in!
Councillor Kevin Bennett
TUSC's local council policy platform, Stand up to the Con-Dems: For councillors who will refuse to implement the cuts, can be found at http://www.tusc.org.uk/policy.php