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Warrington: one rebel defies the pro-cuts Heinz 47
Hugh Caffrey, Socialist Party north-west regional secretary
Kevin Bennett in Warrington has joined the growing number of rebel Labour councillors voting against Labour-run authorities carrying out the Tory-Liberal government coalition's cuts.
Messages of support for Kevin are flooding in from trade unionists across the region and residents in the town.
Kevin says: "I have expressed my views on what I believe to be the views of many people, on having to implement cuts which are not of our making.
"It is wrong that we should be in the firing line when all of this is a result of vicious funding cuts by this Tory-led coalition government".
While Kevin alone opposed the cuts, the handful of Tory councillors abstained and the little knot of Lib Dems voted for them. In Warrington there is now one anti-cuts councillor and 47 pro-cuts councillors arranged for their own conveniences into three parties!
Cuts can be refused
These cuts do not have to be made. As Kevin explained in his speech: "This council could safeguard jobs and services for the next 12 months by using reserves and borrowing.
This would buy time to build a fightback against the government. Labour councillors are refusing to even consider this option. That is a disgrace!"
Warrington council plans to make £30.1 million of cuts over the next four years; with 54 redundancies, £13.9 million worth of cuts and outsourcing of council services passed at Monday's budget-setting meeting.
At the same time, as Kevin explained in his speech to the council, millions of pounds are being poured into additional reserves and costly projects while borrowing is being slashed.
Kevin tried arguing against these cuts within the Labour group but was threatened with disciplinary action and then gagged by the pro-cuts local Labour leadership. "Democracy and free speech has 'died a death' within the Labour group, but as an elected member and a representative of the people of Fairfield and Howley, I demand to be heard" said Kevin, left with no alternative except to speak and vote against the cuts within the council chamber.
Strong support for Kevin against disciplinary measures had already been agreed within the Unite union north-west region, of which Kevin is a leading lay activist.
Warrington trades council is "extending its full support", with trades council chair, Andy Ford, saying: "It took real courage for Kevin Bennett to speak out like he did, alone, for real labour and socialist values. Sadly he received support from no other councillor. We support him wholeheartedly."
Kevin will be working with the trades council, trade unionists and community groups in Warrington to develop a Warrington Against Cuts campaign.
Please send messages of support to Kevin: firstname.lastname@example.org or 07789 617 386.
You can contact Warrington trades council on 07742 417 862 or email@example.com
Kevin Bennett explained his stance in the Liverpool Post:
I expressed my views on what I believe to be the views of many people, on having to implement cuts which are not of our making.
It is wrong that we should be in the firing line when all of this is a result of vicious funding cuts by this Tory led coalition government.
How on earth are we going to maintain these level of cuts is beyond me, especially when Cllr Russ Bowden (Executive member of Corporate Resources and Assignments) has said 'we are scraping the bottom of the barrel' with the cuts this year.
This council could safeguard jobs and services for the next 12 months by using reserves and borrowing.
This would buy time to build a fight-back against this Tory led coalition government. The Labour council's Executive Members and Portfolio holders are refusing to even consider this option.
I was only given one chance to address my concerns, after scrutinising the Draft Budget document, I tried to put my alternatives forward to the Labour Group, the deputy chair (Cllr David Keane) shut me down and wouldn't allow me to finish what I was saying.
I'm afraid that democracy and free speech has 'died a death' within the Labour Group, but as an elected member and a representative of the people of Fairfield and Howley I demand to be heard.
All I hear is the same mantra 'there's nothing else we can do', but there are alternatives out there and I would have loved the opportunity to discuss these within the confines of my Labour Group, but sadly they don't want to listen.
I don't believe we should increase council tax, which will only raise £1.4 million, especially when we are able to boost our reserves by £2.5 million.
I'm all for saving money for a rainy day, but at the moment it's pouring down out there. So why not refrain from boosting our reserves for this year and keep them at nearly £8 million for the MTFP (medium term financial plan) and just under £6 million in our general and strategic reserves and freeze the council tax.
We are borrowing money for projects such as £2 million for Walton Hall and £1 million for Bank Park when we are losing jobs and looking at outsourcing services.
When it's a choice for some of our residents to decide whether to keep warm or eat and the added indignity of having to go to food-banks to feed their families, then I know whose side I'm on. We should be creating jobs not cutting them.
There are other routes as well that are deemed to be an 'acceptable budget' and will be decided not by the views of council officials and their legal advisors, but will ultimately be decided by the growing public support against cuts.
Enough is enough, this administration is acting 'as agents of the coalition', and we need to stop burying our heads in the sand and listen to what the alternatives are.
There is a definite correlation between the cuts and deprivation and I see it in my ward. There must be NO compulsory redundancies within the council workforce, and we must fight to keep our services 'in house'. Once they're gone, they're gone and probably won't save us money.
Then there's the impact of Universal Credit, the 'bedroom tax', PIP payments, council tax benefits, the benefits cap, the discretionary social fund and the legal aid cuts.
The report also states that 'giving responsibility for the council tax benefit to the councils will give a stronger incentive to get people back to work'.
That's just a cop out for this government, how do we get people back to work without the creation of REAL jobs by this government. It will just put more pressure on the income of cash strapped Labour councils.
We are turning into an old style 'third world' country, with low pay for most workers below managerial level, with widening pay differentials and poor levels of capital investment.
The economy is bumping along the bottom with growth about 0.1%, house building at its lowest since the 1920s, Thatcher's 'property owning democracy' is in ruins and who will the economic crisis bear down on the most with soaring food and energy prices, yes you've got it - the poorest households.
Even Thatcher rejected the complete dismantling of the welfare state when it was suggested by Geoffrey Howe, who was Chancellor at that time. But Cameron and Clegg now intend to implement it.
Teachers are having to deal with hungry children who come to school without food or money. It's a disgrace and what are we doing, borrowing £2 million to do up Walton gardens, a million pounds to do up Bank Park.
If as Labour councillors we try to back away from saving local services, we should recognise that by voting for massive cuts we will in effect be voting to abolish ourselves. After all, if the services go, what is the point of having surplus-to-requirement back bench councillors anyway?
This version of this article was first posted on the Socialist Party website on 6 March 2013 and may vary slightly from the version subsequently printed in The Socialist.