By Ross Saunders (Cardiff Socialist Party)
Cardiff’s Labour-run Council stands at a crossroads this year: it can carry on down the road of slashing jobs and services, or take notice of the growing anti-austerity and anti-establishment mood that pushed Corbyn to the leadership of the Labour Party and decide to fight Tory cuts instead of helping to make them.
Millions are rejecting the status quo and are searching for an alternative to the misery of the capitalist system and if the left does not seize the chance to put forward bold policies then populist right forces like UKIP will continue to build support.
Cardiff could be the focus of a growing rebellion against Tory austerity that spreads to the rest of Wales and beyond to bring this millionaires’ government down, but instead we have had a series of council regimes that have collaborated with the Tories to implement a brutal austerity programme that is causing agony in our communities.
The current Labour council plans to make another £19 million of funding cuts this year and raise council tax by an above-inflation 3.5%.
Hardest hit look to be schools, which are facing substantial real-term cuts, the details of which are hidden deep in the budget paperwork. Schools will be hit by over half a million pounds of cuts to central support services and left without £1.9 million of the funding that they need to cope with increased costs, not for the first time. The Specialist Pupil Referral Unit (PRU) for children with behavioural issues at Mynachdy, will be shut and responsibility handed over to a school to run (with less funding). Millions more will be cut from adult education, youth services and social services, which have already been cut to the bone.
In total, Labour has slashed £105 million in the three years that it has run Cardiff and cut at least 1600 jobs, but including the cuts made by previous Lib-Dem and Plaid administrations, Cardiff has lost £200 million of services and at least 2600 jobs in the last decade.
By getting organised and getting out onto the streets to protest, campaigners have managed to defeat some of the cuts and closures – including most recently Meadowbank – a school for children with speech and language difficulties – Canton Community Hall, the Alzheimers Day centre, many of the libraries and arts initiatives but also, going further back Splott Pool, Channel View Leisure, some of the Play centres, Rumney Rec, Lansdowne Primary School and the Infirmary.
That’s proof that if you fight you can win. But unfortunately there are also examples of what we’ve lost when we haven’t managed to defeat the cuts plans – community centres closed in places like Pontprennau, the STAR hub – a sports centre that doesn’t even have a sports hall, leisure centres outsourced, youth services annihilated in many parts of the city, Cardiff Central Library cut in half, schools like Llanedeyrn High closed, a third of social services staff sacked, many more.
When Labour took over the council from the Liberal and Plaid Cymru councillors who ruled Cardiff until 2012, Cardiff Against The Cuts urged them to take a different road to Liberal leader Rodney Berman and his Plaid Cymru partner Neil McEvoy, who presided over a brutal cuts coalition that closed all the remaining Council-run care homes in the city, privatised home care for the elderly and then cut its budget by £1.9 million. Unfortunately, Labour under both Heather Joyce (with Russell Goodway in the shadows) and Phil Bale have until now continued the bloodbath of jobs and services.
It was never true that councillors have no alternative but to carry out the cuts demanded of them by the Government and the Assembly. They can collaborate with the Tories, or they can fight them.
Cardiff Council is sitting on cash reserves of £53.4 million – over twice the total cuts it plans to make this year. It is scandalous that instead of spending this emergency money to keep services running, councillors have hoarded even more of it, increasing the stash by £6.4 million compared to last year. Cardiff Council could spend the general reserves and creatively access earmarked reserves and borrow carefully to plug gaps in funding and make sure not one more service or job is lost while a campaign is built to demand more funding from Westminster.
We’re tired of hearing that we’ve got to make do with inadequate resources. It’s time we worked out for ourselves what services we need in our communities and demanded the funding necessary to pay for it.
Cardiff Against the Cuts and other organisations are planning to pull together a ‘People’s Budget’ campaign to do just that. Campaigners, service-users, trade-unionists, activists, community members and others are invited to take part in drawing up a plan of what we need over the course of January and February. Please get in touch if you or your organisation would like to take part – email email@example.com