Archive article from The Socialist Issue 337
How Socialist Councillors Fought The Cuts
SOCIALIST PARTY councillors in Coventry made a stand and ensured that jobs and services were saved in this year's council budget. The original budget demanded service cuts and 200 job cuts, including front-line social workers for children.
Rob Windsor, Socialist Party councillor Coventry
The council is under no overall control and the two free market-loving parties - New Labour and old Tories - are equally balanced. There are two ex-Labour councillors (now independents), two Liberal councillors and three socialist councillors, Dave Nellist, Karen McKay and Rob Windsor.
Faced with this the New Labour "Majority Group" backed down on many cuts, seeing they couldn't get them accepted. However, they still planned to cut the scope for assessing adults for social services from four levels to two levels only.
The Socialist Party has resisted this. It would remove services for working class pensioners and disabled people who need care and support. New Labour still planned many job cuts.
The Tories' 'alternative budget' proposed funds for half of one of the social services levels to be cut but pay for it by closing two "Area Co-ordination" offices that help organise local people. These focus on local delivery of council services and act as a link between poor local communities and the council.
The Tories showed their contempt for poorer working-class communities by talking of the city's richer areas being "deprived" of services. They also clearly implied that any increase in eligibility for social services would be paid for by selling every service to the private sector.
Lack of funding
The Liberals put their feet firmly in their mouths, proposing to pay for keeping the levels of adult social services by cutting 34 jobs in Social Services and Education including 16 front-line social worker posts in children's Social Services. Their proposals were rejected.
Socialist councillors moved amendments calling for a number of jobs to be retained including trading standards posts and the accredited landlord scheme which makes sure private lettings are fit to rent out.
However the sticking point was our insistence that all levels of eligibility for adult social services should be retained. New Labour councillors had chided us for not "fully costing" our proposals.
We asked why they hadn't written to Tony Blair last March asking for a 'costing' of the £6.3 billion war and occupation of Iraq. £40 million in public funds could have come to Coventry for services if this war had not been fought!
Socialist Party votes against Labour cuts
Our amendment got five votes. The Liberal proposal got two votes and we helped beat the Tory proposal. So when the final vote was taken Coventry was left without a council budget.
The New Labour council leader then met Councillor Dave Nellist offering to put an extra £1 million into social services. On our behalf he rejected this as a token gesture that would not be enough to fund social services adequately. The Liberals got the same offer - they acquiesced so the budget was put through by two votes.
Socialist councillors have directly saved jobs and - through a campaign from last summer - gained extra (though inadequate) funds for adult social services. Had the Liberals not given in, we're certain more funds could have been won.
But our key point was lack of funding from central government. There is around a £1 billion gap in social care between what councils spend and what they get in government grant. The Kings Fund think tank calls for an extra £700 million from the government for council care services.
Before the meeting UNISON said that they'd pay for a bus to lobby Parliament for more funds. I said "Make that 20 buses and we're in business".
In Coventry and beyond, only a mass campaign based in the council unions and local communities can get the funds needed for council services without saddling working people with big council tax rises.