Local government cuts set to continue – we need councillors prepared to fight
Dave Walsh, Liverpool Socialist Party
There will be more cuts to essential local government services next year despite the government’s smoke-and-mirror claims that more resources have been made available, the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) predicts. Unless a fightback is organised, there will be even more cuts to vital local services like social care, public health and youth services as well as many more job losses. And these cuts come on top of the devastating 60% cut to local authority budgets since the 2008 financial crisis.
Among other spending announcements, Sunak promised a £4.8 billion increase in central grant funding for local government across the next three years, a long way short of the £10 billion extra the IFS estimates councils need to maintain existing service levels. In April this year, many faced council tax rises of up to 5%, these increases are set to continue at an estimated 2.8% a year.
With inflation expected to rise towards 5%, Sunak’s promises are set to be wiped out by increased costs for councils. A similar inflation squeeze will face other departments too, as it will workers.
Also included in Sunak’s budget was an end to the public sector pay freeze in April next year. But the fight is on now to win an above-inflation pay rise for council workers. Members of Unison, Unite and GMB unions in local authorities have all voted to reject the current 1.75% pay offer to staff in England. Unions will now ballot members for strike action and together call for a 10% pay rise. Even this would only go part way towards restoring pay lost over a decade of austerity pay freezes.
It is vital that this campaign, and other campaigns for public sector pay rises, are linked to the need for a genuine real-terms increase in funding. Labour MPs and councillors cry crocodile tears and say there’s nothing they can do. But in reality there’s nothing they want to do.
In 2018-19, 125 Labour-led councils held over £9 billion in ‘general fund reserves’. This money should be spent to meet the needs of the communities they are supposed to represent, as part of building support in those communities to demand the money back from the government.
Currently local authority unions all give financial backing and political support to Labour councillors who have carried out cuts. I was a delegate to the Unite policy conference last month. Socialist Party members made tremendous interventions calling for Unite to use its resources to back socialist candidates who are willing to lead a fightback and resist austerity. Unite is now committed to “adopt a policy calling on Labour councils to set legal, balanced, no-cuts needs-based budgets”.
In previous conferences these arguments have been challenged by those defending the Labour link, but this year was different, as if even the most fervent Labour Party apologists had run out of arguments.
The Socialist Party, as part of the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC), is organising dozens of People’s Budget events across the country, setting out the needs of our communities, and raising the necessity for councillors who will fight for them.
Unite policy conference resolutions that Socialist Party members moved and supported have taken us a step closer to branches having the freedom to support socialist candidates outside of Labour, who will fight in the interests of Unite members and our communities. Candidates like Anne Walsh and Roger Bannister standing in Liverpool City Council by elections as part of TUSC on 18 November.