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20 January 2016

Preparing a no-cuts people's budget

A Unite organiser

The new TUSC briefing pack on preparing a 'people's budget' is unquestionably the most important document available for all those who genuinely wish to fight against local government cuts. Unless radical action is taken right now, we will soon no longer be talking about saving council services, but about rebuilding them.

The information contained in the pack blows away the myth that 'nothing can be done', 'there is no money' or that 'councillors have no choice'.

It's not a matter of being hamstrung by the law as many councillors would have people believe, it's a matter of political will. What has been desperately missing from trade unions which have a policy that opposes austerity is an up-to-date strategy to put to councils.

2020

It's very easy to simply say that the cuts are awful and to correctly lay the blame at the feet of the Conservative government; and to follow this up by saying that the answer is to vote in a Labour government in 2020. But this leaves open the question of what happens before then.

During the Labour leadership election, Jeremy Corbyn highlighted the potential that councils have to resist austerity. At that time he called for councils to stand together against government cuts. Corbyn and his chancellor, John McDonnell, cannot now retreat from this call.

Over February and March local authorities will be agreeing budgets that will have a devastating impact on people's lives. Now is the time for all those genuinely opposed to austerity to put that opposition into action.

This is why the information contained in the TUSC briefing is so important - because it shows how this can be done.

There are those who have opposed no-cuts budgets on the grounds that they are illegal and that if passed, the government would simply take over and make worse cuts. The same people argue that instead Labour councils must stay within the law so they can mitigate the impact of cuts.

The TUSC proposals smash this argument apart and show it for what it is - a very red herring.

It is possible to propose and set a legal, no-cuts, balanced budget. This is done through a combination of using reserves and borrowing powers - which could keep a balanced budget without cuts for two years.

Local authorities have huge amounts of money sitting in reserves. In Labour-controlled Greenwich, for example, the figure is in excess of 320 million. In Tory Bromley, the councillors voted to use reserves to buy a holiday home on the Isle of Wight!!

Councils in England control budgets totalling 114 billion pounds and, as the TUSC document points out, that's a powerful starting point from which to organise a fightback against relentless Tory austerity.

Powers

The Tories brought in legislation meaning that local authorities now have powers to allow people's budgets. And beyond this, we cannot allow the debate to come down to good and bad cuts or mitigating attacks on workers. There can be no more talk of making cuts with a heavy heart.

Liverpool City councillors in the 1980s, led by supporters of Militant (predecessor of the Socialist), took on the government in far tougher circumstances.

Despite the viciousness of the Thatcher government and the more difficult legal circumstances, those councillors won 60 million for the people of Liverpool. They built council homes and created jobs.

Councillors do not face the same legal and financial punishment today - but must show the same courage and determination in light of the unprecedented attack on local government services.

■ Download the briefing from www.tusc.org.uk




http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/articles/22067