Fight Cardiff Council's Brutal Cuts

Cardiff Council has announced its latest brutal cuts plans as our national headlines erupt with more scandalous behaviour by the bankers who caused the economic crisis. Councillors have agreed another £48 million worth of cuts, including £35 million of cuts to services, £5.7 million more cut from the pay of council workers – who have already lost 18% of their real pay in the last four years according to their union - and a 5% increase in Council Tax.

Libraries will be targeted for cuts, leisure centres for privatisation and day centres for elderly and disabled people for closure. The Council is also washing its hands of many important community facilities, including the city’s playcentres and youth clubs, which will close if they can’t find funding from other sources.

Ross Saunders, Secretary of Cardiff Against The Cuts, said, “The Council’s Stepping Up initiative is a cruel joke played on our communities. The idea that we could find, without financial help from the Council, the millions of pounds needed to run all these services every year is ludicrous. Councillors know that. They’re trying to pull the wool over our eyes and conceal the fact that they’re writing a death sentence for these services. In reality, if council funding is severed, the vast majority will close.”

The banks rig international currency exchange markets, fiddle with lending rates to maximise their profits and continue to reward themselves with massive bonuses and pay packages. They don’t play by the rules, but Cardiff Council is demanding that we do. Councillors, who should be standing up for us, not implementing the cuts demanded by the Tory-Liberal government, insist we must obediently submit to losing these services that are amongst our society’s most essential.

Previous Councils run by Plaid Cymru and the Liberals, as well as previous Labour cuts budgets, have meant a quarter of all social-services staff in the city have been sacked already, but more frontline workers now have their heads on the chopping block. Despite being unable to carry out £4 million of last years cuts, Health and Social Care stands to lose another £7.9 million this year and Children’s Social Services is facing almost another £2.7 million worth of cuts.

People whose job it is to find children without parents a place to sleep are facing redundancy, with their colleagues being expected somehow to pick up the extra casework, as well as paperwork from office staff who are also for the chop. Training is being slashed back as well. If a terrible tragedy, like the Baby P case, happened in Cardiff in the next few years, you’d see politicians wringing their hands and wishing they could have done something to prevent it. Now is their chance. Vote against this budget.

Funding cuts are planned for services for fostering, respite and supervised contact for parents and carers. Mr Saunders said, “That will mean that some families which could have been prevented from falling apart will do so. Every cut the Council is planning comes with a justification claiming that there will be no impact on the delivery of the service. If that were true, why wait until the era of austerity to change the service in this way? We are being asked to believe that it is a coincidence that more efficient ways of performing services have emerged just as the cuts became necessary.”

Cardiff Council is playing with fire, and any one of us could get burned as a result. Its plans include cuts to funding for services designed to change behaviour that could lead to sexual assault, rape and paedophilia. They want to run social services on the cheap by opening the door to privatisation. One of their schemes even involves the use of bizarre financial instruments, similar to those which wrecked the economy, to find children a place in foster care! This gambling with the lives of vulnerable people is irresponsible. It’s also undemocratic. Some of the proposals come with virtually no detail. The Council is planning to find almost a million pounds of savings in Children’s Social Services through a “lean service review.” No information is available to the public, or presumably to councillors who are being asked to support these plans, on what that will mean. Any councillor who votes for this budget is acting irresponsibly.

Under the plans, funding will cease for all but six Council-run youth clubs. Seventeen are currently listed on the Council’s website. Cardiff Central Library, which has also lost library services in two of its five floors, is due to receive another cut of a third of its total budget. What space is left in the building, which has been open just 5 years, will not be exclusively used as a library. Most day centres in the city will close.

This is the most cynical closure. In order to try and soften the opposition to this cruel cut to our elderly, the Council is pretending to believe that day centre services can be provided without day centres. The capacity doesn’t exist to run day centres in other facilities in the city. The truth is that if these places shut, many elderly people will rarely leave their home. These places save live. The real cruelty of their approach is shown by the Council’s willingness to also contemplate cutting meals on wheels.

In Ireland today, some courageous political representatives are helping to organise campaigns against austerity, instead of implementing cuts. MPs from the Socialist Party are leading the We Won’t Pay campaign against the introduction of water charges. Why can’t we have in Wales what they’ve got in Ireland? Why won’t our representatives, like the Councillors in Cardiff, stand with us to fight instead of stand with the government and demand our services are cut and our living standards keep falling?

There is an alternative. It’s not true that Councillors’ hands aren’t tied. They could refuse to pass a cuts-budget, and instead spend the Council’s reserves and borrow sensibly to save jobs and services in short term while they lead a campaign to demand more funding. The Holtham Commission estimates Wales is underfunded by £300million a year. An academic study produced for the PCS union estimated that there is over £120 billion of tax lost every year to evasion and avoidance, largely by big business. But we’ll never get our hands on any of that money, which should be spent on public services, if we obediently submit to demands to cut those services back. The government will never voluntarily give us what we need: we’ll have to fight for it. If the politicians won’t fight with us, then we’ll fight them too and demand they back off from our services. Cardiff Against The Cuts won’t stop organising that campaign and if councillors don’t discover a backbone, they’ll have to face hundreds of campaigners at their budget-setting meeting next year.

To plan the campaign, Cardiff Against The Cuts has called a meeting at 7pm on Wednesday 26th November in the side bar of the Owain Glyndwr opposite St Johns' Church in Cardiff City Centre. All welcome.

Ross Saunders

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