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Monday 8 February 2016

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Union opposition to council cuts grows - but Labour councils plan more job losses

In early January the UNITE union's National Industrial Sector Committee for Local Government workers agreed a significant resolution calling on Labour-controlled councils to no longer meekly pass on the Tories cuts to local government funding.

Instead, the motion argued, by using reserves and councils' borrowing powers, they should set legal no cuts budgets to buy time to build a mass campaign to force the Tories to retreat and properly fund local government.

Now the Local Government Service Group Executive (SGE) of UNISON, the union representing the majority of local government workers, has made a similar call (see below for the full text).

Growing union support for fighting strategy

Meanwhile the Glasgow local government branch of UNISON, the largest in Scotland, has produced a special edition of its branch newsletter to members making a detailed case for a no cuts budget (see http://www.tusc.org.uk/txt/361.pdf).

The growing trade union support for a fighting strategy that could roll back the attack on local councils completely vindicates the argument of the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) that councillors don't just have to implement the Tory cuts. Austerity is a political choice in the council chamber as much as it is in Westminster.

The arguments on what councils can do to resist the cuts are developed in a recent TUSC briefing pack, available to download at http://www.tusc.org.uk/txt/355.pdf

GMB reveals Labour councils' job losses plans

But while union opposition to council cuts is growing, Labour councils are unfortunately planning a new round of cuts to jobs, services and council workers' conditions in this year's budget-setting meetings.

In early February the GMB union, which also organises local government workers, reported on its survey of early budget decisions by 52 councils in England, Wales and Scotland. It identified a total of 25,165 job losses that are already in the pipeline (see http://www.gmb.org.uk/newsroom/council-job-losses). The final figure will be much higher as the information from the other 350 or so councils comes in.

But what is staggering from the information so far is that out of the 25,165 job losses, 22,128 are being made by Labour-controlled councils - 15,611 in the 29 councils listed where Labour has an overall majority of councillors and 6,517 in seven councils under 'no overall control' but where Labour as the biggest party has formed the administration.

TUSC appeal to Corbyn

The GMB also reports that it is prepared to ballot its 7,000 members at Labour-controlled Birmingham city council if the council imposes new terms and conditions as part of its cuts package (see http://www.gmb.org.uk/newsroom/birmingham-city-council-cuts).

What is becoming increasingly clear is that a big majority of Labour councillors are not prepared to put Jeremy Corbyn's anti-austerity message into action.

It is even more urgent then that Jeremy and his supporters respond to TUSC's appeal (see http://www.tusc.org.uk/17165/21-01-2016/dave-nellists-by-election-appeal-to-corbyn-lets-discuss-how-to-fight-the-cuts) - to discuss how to take the anti-cuts fight into May's local elections and give a political voice to the growing anger of council workers.

The text of the motion passed at the UNISON Local Government Service Group Executive (SGE) on 4th February reads:

This SGE notes that:

* English councils control combined budgets of £114 billion.

* The combined budgets of the 58 Labour-led councils with elections in May comes to £32.7 billion.

* They hold around £4.5 billion in general fund reserves and another £1.36 billion in housing revenue account and capital receipt reserves.

* This does not include the vast reserves held by Labour-controlled councils in London.

* That there is no legal impediment stopping Labour councils pooling reserves.

* That local authorities have significant borrowing powers. This includes 'prudential' borrowing (unsupported borrowing) alongside capital borrowing. Local authorities have and continue to use these powers.

* That under the Localism Act, local authorities have a "power of competence" to do "anything apart from that which is prohibited".

* That even with the above procedural points, a campaign is needed to unite service users, communities and trade unions in a fight against the Tories to protect local government.

* That the factors above show that councillors do in fact have options.

This SGE therefore agrees:

1. To call on Labour, Plaid Cymru and Scottish National Party councils to set legal no cuts budgets, use reserves, capitalise eligible general fund expenditure and borrow prudentially to generate resources so that no council needs make cuts. These are short term measures to buy time to build a national campaign.

2. That the financial measures must be combined with a national campaign, linking councils, trade unions and communities in a fight against the Tories austerity programme.

3. To call on the union's political officers/department to prepare a strategy to take the points in this motion forward.