Hundreds of people protested against the devastating cuts and dire financial state of Tory-controlled Northamptonshire council on 17 February. Labour councillor and parliamentary candidate Gareth Eales told the crowd how his first attempt to run for council was denied after he expressed a strong opposition to private finance initiatives (PFI).
According to Eales he was deemed "not suitable to be a Labour councillor." Gareth stood alongside fellow Corbyn-backing Labour councillors, 'Save Northants Services', the Socialist Party and many other campaign groups in calling for the end of PFI, privatisation and cuts.
The council has issued a 'Section 114 notice' banning all new expenditure other than on statutory services. It says it risks 'overspending' by £21 million in 2017-18 and plans a total of £33.6 million in cuts for 2018-19. But this is on top of £400 million cuts since 2010.
As a model Tory authority it has outsourced (privatised) virtually every service, cutting its directly employed workforce from around 4,000 to 150. Unbelievably it has a billion pounds of debt for PFI schemes according to Save Northants Services! Repayments cost nearly £50 million a year.
Such is the scale of the crisis that the government has sent inspectors into the council. Campaigners, however, have no trust in the government to solve the crisis in a way that will help local services.
In contrast there needs to be a trade union and community-led investigation into the financial books, what services the county really needs and an alternative strategy. The cuts must be immediately reversed, services brought back in-house and PFI debt scrapped.
Campaigners are also demanding the council should resign and force new elections to give local people a genuine alternative to Tory cuts. However, even if this were to happen it is vital that candidates aiming to replace the Tories adopt a no-cuts budget approach, including a readiness to use reserves and borrowing powers.
With or without an emergency election, a mass campaign needs to be built linking trade unions and the workforce - both direct and outsourced - with the community across Northamptonshire to force extra funding from the government.
This is a glimpse of the future for all councils unless the Tory plans for the destruction of local services are stopped. We need fighting no-cuts councillors and national trade union action to back up mass local campaigns.
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