Southampton, Brighton, Reading

Labour councils miss opportunity to stop Tory cuts

Southampton Socialist Party members and trade unionists protest against cuts

Southampton Socialist Party members and trade unionists protest against cuts   (Click to enlarge: opens in new window)

Nick Chaffey, Socialist Party Southern secretary

In the same week at the end of February, three Labour councils in the south – Brighton, Reading and Southampton – had an opportunity to use Labour’s strongholds in southern England to rally opposition to further Tory austerity and set no-cuts budgets to defend jobs and services.

But far from putting up resistance, these councillors are privatising amenities, cutting services and putting up council tax, rents and charges. This will only further punish hard-hit working-class communities.

Reading Labour councillors voted through the privatisation of leisure services to none other than Greenwich Leisure Limited, who attacked library workers and were beaten by strike action from Unite the Union in south London.

Continuing cuts to Southampton schools mean teaching assistants and teachers axed, class sizes rising and classroom support disappearing. The housing crisis continues, but Southampton Council is borrowing £200 million to speculate in buying commercial property – enough to build over 2,000 council homes.

Brighton Labour councillors proposed £9.3 million cuts, including slashing disability and domestic violence services.

None of the Labour leadership candidates support Labour councils setting no-cuts budgets or mobilising council trade unions and the local communities to fight for government funding. It is essential that this is challenged in the local elections, and a no-cuts socialist alternative is offered to working-class voters.

I made the deputation, on behalf of the Socialist Party, to the council budget meeting. I said: “The decade of austerity has been a disaster for working-class communities, with the loss of vital services and cuts to over 1,000 jobs.

“We need to fight for the restoration of the £151 million stolen by the Tories from Southampton since 2010.” This would fund “youth services, social care, libraries and Sure Start, alongside a council house building programme, showing an alternative socialist vision to the decade of cutbacks.”