By Alec Thraves
Swansea Socialist Party represented what the council leader called the ‘unofficial opposition’ in challenging another £22m cuts proposal for the 2018/19 budget at the council’s cabinet meeting last week.
With no opposition councillors or trade union representatives present at the cabinet meeting it fell yet again on our shoulders to highlight the fact that there has already been more than £60m worth of cuts since 2015 with a further projection of £85m more cuts over the next 4 years!
In the 10 minute public question time slot before the budget proposals were presented we asked the Labour cabinet members: – “why does the Labour council keep repeating year after year that ‘there is nothing we can do’ to challenge the Tory cuts?”
We posed it like this: – “If you were a good trade union rep and your employer kept attacking your members wages and conditions year after year you wouldn’t dream of telling those workers that there ‘is nothing we can do’! No, you would mobilise your members and organise a fight back to defend their interests. So why isn’t Swansea Labour council mobilising the council workforce, the residents of Swansea, other Labour councils in Wales and the Welsh-led Labour government to demand off the Tories the funding necessary to retain and improve council services”?
During an extended public question time we witnessed the same lame excuses that have been repeated in the council chamber over the past few years.
The council leader said again “we cannot set an illegal budget”. But the Socialist Party is not advocating setting an illegal budget. We are calling for a legal No-cuts budget, using council reserves and prudential borrowing as a short term measure to stop further cuts and give us time launch a mass campaign against Tory austerity.
The Finance Officer derided the suggestion that we could use the council’s reserves as there were only £12m in the General Fund – true – but omitting to point out that there is £99m in Total Usable Reserves!
And, as always, the threat that if Labour doesn’t make these ‘difficult choices’ then Tory Commissioners will come in, replace elected councillors and make even worse cuts!
This argument is wrong on several points: –
- Commissioners can only be sent in if a council sets an illegal budget and the Socialist Party, alongside the Wales TUC, is advocating the setting of a legal ‘No Cuts’ budget.
- It would not be the Tory UK government that would make the decision to send in commissioners, but the Welsh Labour government in Cardiff. So it is simply false for Labour councillors to threaten us with ‘Tory commissioners’. Or are Swansea Labour council saying that Welsh Labour would behave like the Tories?
In practice with a mass campaign involving workers and service users it would be virtually politically impossible for the Welsh Labour government to send in commissioners to force a council to carry out Tory cuts. If Margaret Thatcher did not feel strong enough to send in the commissioners against Liverpool council in 1984-6 when it refused to carry out the cuts, then Carwyn Jones would never be able to.
£85m more cuts over the next 4 years in Swansea will see council services devastated with the elderly, the young and the most disadvantaged being told they must pay the price of Tory austerity because this Labour council is just obediently passing on Tory cuts.
The council’s justification that Labour’s £22m budget cuts for 2018/19 are better than Tory cuts or Commissioners cuts are as unacceptable as their refusal to organise a fight back! However, If you lose your council job, if you get charged more for vital services or if you see those services completely taken away then Labour’s cuts became little different to Tory cuts!
In 2018, Labour councils across the country will start facing a big reaction to their cuts agenda from working class people demanding no more cuts to our services and Labour councillors will face the consequences that if they act like Tories then eventually they will be treated like Tories!