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Thursday 17 June 2021

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TUSC committee makes call for local People's Budget campaigns

The Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) All-Britain Steering Committee is calling on all local TUSC groups, individual members, TUSC supporters and affiliated groups in areas where they are active, to begin to lay plans for the year ahead - focusing on local People's Budget campaigns.

The June meeting of the steering committee agreed that developing and promoting a local People's Budget could form the basis of a vibrant electoral challenge in the council elections scheduled for May 2022. There are over 200 councils with elections then, which will be all-up contests for every council seat in Scotland, Wales, the London boroughs and Birmingham, and with a third of councillors up for election in most of the rest (see the TUSC directory of the 2022 elections at https://www.tusc.org.uk/txt/448.pdf).

But the committee also agreed that other areas where there are no elections in May 2022 should not wait either. As society prepares to move on from the Covid pandemic a People's Budget campaign could play a central role in bringing trade union branches, campaigns and community groups together to fight at a local level for what communities will need, not what Tory austerity will demand.

The role councils could play

Contrary to the impression given by the establishment mainstream media - which reduces 'politics' to games at Westminster (and, sometimes, the devolved parliaments) - the decisions taken by locally-elected councils are central to the provision of many services that directly affect the daily lives of millions.

The Tories have made deep cuts to councils' funding in the past decade but local authorities still account for over one fifth of all public spending, with powers over housing, education support, adult social care, sports and leisure facilities, youth provision, transport, recycling and rubbish collection, libraries, children's centres, community grants, environmental planning, and many other services.

Most current councillors, including unfortunately the majority of Labour's 6,300 or so local councillors, see their role as administrators of austerity not as campaigners for more and better services. A local People's Budget, however, could set a different agenda, based on what the community needs - and illustrate the need for a different type of councillor too.

That applies to all councils - but particularly to the 120 or so Labour-led councils who could make such a difference if they chose too. Their combined spending power is actually greater than the state budgets of 16 EU countries!

A glimpse of what is possible

Earlier this year the TUSC steering committee published a report examining the policy pledges made in Labour's 2019 general election manifesto under Jeremy Corbyn's leadership, which councils have the legal powers to implement today if they had the political will to do so (see https://www.tusc.org.uk/17462/01-02-2021/new-tusc-report-could-councils-implement-labours-2019-pledges).

The report identifies 46 separate policies promised by Labour just 18 months ago which councils could carry out now - immediately - that would transform peoples' lives. These range from breakfast clubs and free school meals for all primary school pupils; local replacements for the Educational Maintenance Allowance (EMA) for 16-18 year olds in education; free bus travel for under-25s; a council house building programme; rent controls for licensed landlords; the end of '15-minute maximum' home care visits; to a mass home insulation energy efficiency programme to fight climate change.

Even just a selection of these policies could form the basis of a People's Budget to present to the local council. But inviting local trade union branches, campaign groups, community organisations, student groups and others to contribute would undoubtedly come up with more ideas - and lay the basis for a campaign for the local council to implement them now, using their reserves and borrowing powers to temporarily finance them while launching a mass campaign locally and nationally for permanent funding from central government.

How councils could use their powers to temporarily maintain a 'balanced budget' while fighting for proper resources from the government has been explained in previous TUSC documents, including the 43-page briefing Preparing a No Cuts People's Budget, available from the TUSC website at http://www.tusc.org.uk/txt/355.pdf.

But what is most needed is a will to fight - or to stand aside for those who have got the determination to do so.

What steps can groups take?

TUSC groups should look to meet and begin to lay out plans to host a People's Budget conference before the end of 2021, to draw together the local set of demands and campaign issues to take to the council ahead of their 2022-23 budget-setting meeting, which will take place in January or February 2022.

After deciding on a date for the People's Budget conference, a plan of action should be discussed and drawn up to build for it, by contacting trade union branches, campaign groups, community groups, residents associations and so on to take part - co-hosting if they wish - but certainly inviting them to contribute with their ideas and proposals for what is needed in the local area.

The council unions will themselves be examining the council's initial proposals for the 2022-23 budget while many community groups with full or part-funding from the local council - or users of council-funded facilities or services - will be discussing their own finances and plans in the autumn period as councils start their budget consultations.

TUSC nationally will produce an update of the Preparing a No Cuts People's Budget document and in the autumn will resume publication of the How Much Reserves Have They Got? reports on council finances - based on the annual statement of accounts published by councils each summer (see https://www.tusc.org.uk/txt/427.pdf for the last report, produced in 2018).

And there will be further campaign guidance. While the exact procedures differ between councils they all have provision for petitions to be presented or formal questions submitted, including in the run-up to the budget-making meeting, even if it proves impossible to persuade an individual councillor to sponsor the People's Budget. The TUSC steering committee will produce model letters, including to Labour and Green councillors to put to them what are they prepared to do, and campaign material artwork - as in the elections - available for local groups to use.

Election planning too

People's Budget campaigns can play an important role everywhere in organising a local fightback to the efforts the pro-capitalist politicians will make to pass the costs of the Covid pandemic onto the shoulders of working class people. But in areas with local council elections next year - covering a bigger range of councils than in 2021 - they could be central in pulling together the broadest possible anti-austerity electoral challenge. But that means election planning too.

It is standing TUSC policy that local TUSC steering committees, branches or groups should be established where possible for local government areas and parliamentary constituencies where it is planned to contest seats in future elections.

But this time, to encourage the early planning for next year's elections, the steering committee is also asking local groups to agree an election agent (or agents) for next year's contests by the autumn, even if this is a provisional appointment. Agents' details should be sent to the TUSC National Election Agent, Clive Heemskerk, at [email protected] by October 1st and a national zoom briefing for TUSC agents will then be organised for later in 2021.