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Fighting council cuts in Devon
MANY LOCAL councils are considering cutting services to try to keep council tax increases down. A new survey suggests that 28% admit to planning cuts in jobs and services, blaming increased fuel bills and above-inflation rises in contracts with the public sector.
But these cuts are stimulating opposition, even as far afield as Tiverton in Devon, as the cuts' real implications become clear. STEVE BUSH reports.
PUBLIC MEETINGS are becoming a regular event across Devon. Cuts to services and privatisations are being railroaded through at district and county level.
Here in Mid-Devon, a campaign is being waged against the transfer of housing stock from the council to a Housing Association. The campaign has the support of local Liberal Democrats. Several lively public meetings have seen significant opposition to the proposals, and the Socialist Party has been active in the Campaign for a 'No' vote, which looks like it could be won.
Another lively public meeting took place, 'consulting' on the county council's proposal to get rid of two residential care homes for the elderly in Mid-Devon. The decision has been made to get rid of the homes, along with two others in the county.
This is the latest phase in their programme of cuts and privatisation that has already seen several other care homes close. The only 'consultation' will be whether to sell the homes to the private sector or a charity to run, or sell them to developers.
Everyone at the meeting wanted the homes kept open. The county council here is run by the Liberal Democrats, who say that lack of government funding leaves them having to make 'tough choices' - choices such as leaving elderly, vulnerable people to die a lingering lonely death isolated in their own homes, or if they are 'lucky', to get a scarce place in a poorly run private residential care home, looked after by staff on poverty wages.
The Lib Dems' latest 'tough choice' in Devon is their proposal to close 12 libraries across the county. Of course they're being forced to make these cuts by that nasty Mr Blair, as one councillor told me.
When I suggested he could stand up to the government, pass a deficit budget and demand the extra money from Blair's government, he said: "We couldn't do that, that would be illegal."
The Socialist Party in Devon will stand shoulder to shoulder with everyone willing to fight these cuts, and we will seek to build a political alternative to the spineless stooges who pass for political representatives by standing Socialist candidates against them.
Fighting new contracts in Stroud
OVER 50 UNISON pickets were outside the Stroud District Council in Gloucestershire, taking part in the first day of strike action against the imposition of new contracts.
All 450 contracted staff, out of a workforce of 600, have been threatened with dismissal if they don't sign within ten days. National agreements and any consultation process are being ignored. These new contracts state that further changes to terms and conditions can be made with only four weeks' notice (in other councils this is three months) and without union consultation. It's in effect union derecognition.
Management are refusing any meaningful talks with UNISON, as Christine Cook, the Regional Officer, said: "They don't want to talk, they want to dictate. There will be continuing strike action until we get this resolved."
SDC worker Ian Soule said: "I'll lose £3,000 a year for doing the same job." Management are attempting to impose a reduced 12-point salary scale. The top three are for management who recently gave themselves a pay increase. The other nine points jump £4,000-£5,000 per point.
The outcome will be experienced staff working alongside inexperienced staff on the same pay and it will be harder to go up the pay scale. Redundancy pay will be slashed to the legal statutory minimum, making it much cheaper to make experienced staff redundant. And a three-year pay protection for anyone who accepted a pay cut is now only 12 months. Sickness pay is also under attack.
Jerry Whitney, a council worker for 37 years said: "We've never had this hassle over reorganisation before." Stroud council is Tory controlled but these changes are in line with Labour's generalised attack on public services. If they get away with this it will open the way for other councils to follow suit. The outcome of this dispute will be felt far beyond the five valleys of Stroud.