Lobbying Carmarthenshire council against Plaid Cymru's cuts March 2020 (uploaded 11/03/2020)
Lobbying Carmarthenshire council against Plaid Cymru's cuts March 2020 (uploaded 11/03/2020)

Welsh Labour looks to make £900 million of cuts

Working-class fightback needed

Mark Evans, Carmarthenshire County Unison Branch Secretary and Unison Local Government Service Group Executive (personal capacity)

The Welsh Labour government has threatened a new round of cuts to Welsh public services, incredibly including the already-on-its-knees NHS, citing a £900 million hole in Welsh public finances.

The article ‘Welsh Devolution a case study of Labour in Power’ in the Socialist issue 1238 (see socialistparty.org.uk) highlighted how initially the Welsh Assembly Labour government, under the leadership of Rhodri Morgan, was able to implement some reforms and, to a certain extent, increase public spending due to the temporary boom in the UK economy at the time.

This all changed with the financial crash of 2007-08. While Labour leaders, including in Wales, have seen their role as making capitalism a little more palatable for the working class, this was only possible when capitalism had some crumbs to offer. Those days are long gone with the British and Welsh economy in long-term decline.

£900 million of cuts

Now according to Mark Drakeford, Labour First Minister of the Welsh government, Wales faces the “toughest financial situation since devolution”. He has asked all ministers to spend their summer finding cuts to their departments. The £900 million of cuts comes out of a budge of £20 billion – a cut in spending of nearly 5%!

Mark Drakeford blames the scale of the cuts on inflation, mismanagement of the economy by successive UK governments and underfunded commitments made by the UK government particularly regarding public sector pay. He said: “The cabinet will be working over the summer to mitigate these budgetary pressures based on our principles, which include protecting public services as far as possible, and targeting support towards those at greatest need”.

It will come as a surprise to most people in Wales that public services have received any protection, as both the NHS and council services are in a parlous state due to Tory cuts and underfunding passed on by successive Welsh Labour governments. You will search or listen in vain for an alternative from Mark Drakeford or his party to Tory cuts. Indeed, “targeting support towards those in greatest need” means further rationing services in practice.

Change the game

While Mark Drakeford and the Welsh Labour government bemoan the cards they are dealt by the Tories, the financial settlement provided by central government, they accept capitalism and the cuts which come with it as the only game in town. Capitalism means the deck is stacked against working-class people and the vital services we use. Appealing to the Tories’ better natures for more money will never succeed; trying to juggle an ever-decreasing budget only results in our class and the most vulnerable in society losing out.

The Welsh government should refuse to implement any further cuts, it should set a no-cuts needs budget, and use its reserves (and those of local authorities) and borrowing powers to maintain services while launching a mass campaign of opposition to Tory cuts, mobilising trade unions, councils and working-class communities.

The Welsh Labour government sees its role as dividing up a cake that gets smaller and smaller in real terms with each budget settlement. However well intentioned that is, it is failing working-class people who elected them. We need a new mass workers’ party fighting in our interests with socialist policies. If this was in place now it would mobilise workers across Wales on a mass scale in defence of jobs and services.

Birmingham council faces £870 million bumper bill Fight for services we need

Corinthia Ward, Birmingham Socialist Party

Birmingham residents are in a state of uncertainty about the future of local government public services. Birmingham City Council has announced a financial ‘black hole’ of £870 million. The Labour council’s leadership claims a bill of £760 million to meet council workers’ equal pay claims. And £100 million to fix a failing IT system, which the council moved over to despite concerns raised by council staff and trade unions that it was not fit for purpose. The IT system has resulted in bills not being invoiced and staff and residents receiving delays in payments.

The council has frozen all ‘non-essential’ payments, threatening jobs and services. School transport for children with Special Education Needs and Disabilities has been cancelled, leaving these vulnerable children unable to get to school. The council evidently doesn’t consider this essential!

This year’s financial crisis is in stark contrast to last year’s Commonwealth Games, held in Birmingham, which cost the taxpayer £780 million with at least £250 million of that paid by the council. One year on and money which would supposedly be generated by this event is nowhere to be found, at least not in investment in public services or better pay for staff.

Funding needed

Rishi Sunak has said central government will not help bail Birmingham council out. Birmingham’s funding from central government since 2010 has been slashed by nearly half – or £750 million.

It is clear this crisis is the result of a decade of austerity.

The Labour council is instead trying to blame council workers who are asking for money which they are owed. This divide-and-conquer tactic of council workers vs the community is an attempt to hide the fact that for over a decade, the Labour council has implemented Tory austerity instead of fighting for the funding Birmingham needs.

If the Labour council is unwilling to fight for more funding, what Birmingham needs is a political voice for the working class that is prepared to fight. Candidates standing in elections on an anti-cuts platform offer an alternative to the status quo of making the working class pay with higher council taxes for worse or non-existent services. Socialist Party members have stood in elections in Birmingham on such a platform, alongside trade unionists and campaigners, as part of the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition.

We campaign to end the cuts and restore lost services, to use borrowing powers and reserves to ensure no cuts are carried out immediately and to fight with trade unions, community groups and council staff to fight for the funding required from central government.

Fighting council budget gaps in Kirklees

Angie Waller, Kirklees Unison branch committee, personal capacity

Kirklees District Council has announced a forecast budget gap of £47 million for 2024-25. In order to achieve a balanced budget, the Labour council warned staff that there could be 750 redundancies.

They issued an HR1 notice on 8 August, stating that there will be initially 250 redundancies between 6 October 2023 and 29 March 2024.

However, there is no detail within the notice as to which posts will potentially be made redundant. There is currently no agreed redundancy policy in place and the council is not even considering a council-wide voluntary redundancy scheme.

Kirklees Unison branch committee passed a motion unanimously. I put forward amendments to the motion that were unanimously passed. The main motion called for redundancies to be kept to a minimum and be voluntary. While I supported the demand for no compulsory redundancies, I warned about the impact on services and working conditions of voluntary redundancies and amended the resolution to state that they should be avoided if we are to keep services fully provided.

Instead, the amendment added the demand that the council should set a no-cuts needs budget to defend all jobs and services and campaign for adequate central government funding to protect jobs and services in Kirklees. This is what the Unison Local Government Service Group Executive also supports.

The motion called for an industrial action ballot, to mount a campaign to oppose the council’s proposals, and link with local trade unions and public to gain wider opposition.