Council uses reserves to stop cuts

Stoke-on-Trent’s council uses reserves to stop cuts

Andy Bentley

The coalition of City Independents and Tories now running Stoke-on-Trent city council plans to do what Labour refused to do during all the years they have previously been in control.

The coalition is using £15.5 million of reserves to stop further cuts in 2016/17 instead of carrying on with Labour’s cuts which have totalled £150 million since 2011.

Labour leader Mohammed Pervez and numerous Labour councillors have told Stoke Socialist Party and Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition election candidates every year that it’s not possible to use reserves to stave off cuts!

Tory deputy council leader Abi Brown said: “By using our reserves next year, it will give ourselves a bit of time to do things properly. The government has been quite clear in saying that councils can use their reserves as opposed to slashing services” (Sentinel 14/12/2015).

Councillors have a choice

If Tories and the City Independents can use reserves then never again should Labour councillors be allowed to get away with saying ‘we have to carry out cuts, we have no choice’. Council tax bills are also set to be frozen.

But, while using reserves to stop further cuts in 2016/17 is a step forward and will be welcomed by a majority of people across the city, on its own it will not stop the Tory government’s remorseless drive to reduce year-on-year the amount of money it provides to local councils.

Neither should we mistake what is meant by the City Independent/Tory council statement that using reserves will “give ourselves a bit of time to do things properly”. This effectively means ‘balancing the books’ by carrying out cuts at a later stage.

Using reserves to stave off immediate cuts is a policy which the Socialist Party has consistently campaigned for over many years and therefore we see it as a step forward in providing at least a temporary respite to the endless cuts suffered by working class people in the city.

Mass campaign needed

But we have also consistently argued that any ‘breathing space’ provided by the use of reserves should be used to build a serious campaign to demand that the government provides sufficient funds to ensure that jobs and services can be maintained and improved. In other words, a ‘people’s budget’ based on the needs of the 250,000 people who live in our city.

We do not expect that the present Tory/City Independent run council will do this but Labour councillors (still the largest single party) should put forward an alternative budget for 2016/17 which includes the use of reserves to ensure that no cuts are carried out. It should also include the launch of a campaign, involving the city’s residents, to agree a people’s budget based on our needs and financed by the government.

This version of this article was first posted on the Socialist Party website on 7 January 2016 and may vary slightly from the version subsequently printed in The Socialist.