The alternatives to councillors’ cutting…

Today, in Leeds, there was a protest against the council (Labour/Green ran) plans for cuts. What councils should do in response to the cuts is something I haven’t really discussed. It’s a complex issue, with the left fighting amongst itself (as always) on what to do.

The government preaches about local democracy, whilst placing the councils in an awful position as their grants are slashed, with the government cutting the council’s budget by 28% over the next four years. The government complain that Labour councils are making ideological cuts, but frankly even Tory councillors are complaining about the extent of the cuts. This situation is even more infuriating when Cameron pulls off special favours for his council, preventing the closure of a library.

Setting an illegal budget does have the potential to undermine the central government’s control over councils. Specifically, such a move would make it clear that it’s not the council who are choosing to enact the cuts; undermining any legitimacy they may appear to be receiving from the council. The source of the cuts needs to be emphasised. In Leeds, Liberal Democrats are using the cutting of the Crisis Service, an insensitive decision by the council, as a political  scoring opportunity. This angers me given given their own position regarding the cuts. However, this is not to say that councils have no responsibility, but just because the Liberal Democrats are in opposition in the council doesn’t make them any less responsible.

The 1980s was a different context (see Bright Green Scotland for a good analysis of this), but for measures such as illegal budgets to work there needs to be a considerable number of councils setting illegal budgets. This would be aided by a clearer, much more focused strategy and campaign in order to raise public awareness of the need for resistance. Also central to the fight back is a continuation of opposition against the central government, given they are the source of the cuts. The Bright Green Scotland article, referred to, also refers to the need for a coordinated strategy, as without a larger political movement councils can become isolated and intimated by the central government.

However, it may prove harder than the 1980s, given the Labour party’s distance from the left. Let’s not forget that under a Labour government, cuts would be beginning now, as Labour set out to halve the deficit in a parliament, through cuts Darling said would be worse than Thatcher. However, councillors from all parties are raising objections, so there is potential.

Other alternatives are slim. The council have no ability to raise council tax, for instance. Before someone says this would have been regressive, the council could have used it in a progressive way of only increasing it for the richest in the city/town. Furthermore, councils’ ability to borrow through Tax Increment Financing is restricted, despite claims contra to this; consider the apparent unreliability of the borrowing potential:

It has been fiercely resisted by the Treasury in the past, largely on the basis that the projected development income in the form of higher business rates cannot be guaranteed, and should therefore be marked against government borrowing.

Given the market, relying upon such income may prove difficult; especially given the severity of the cuts – offsetting loses through this would be difficult. Also, such borrowing is focused upon private sector investment, which is unreliable and driven by profit, not equality. It also has a hint of PFI to it. The Tax Increment Financing is about using projected future gains through taxes to fund investments, rather than a concentration on maintaining current services. Therefore, the effects this will have in the short-term is limited, especially when attempting to stop cuts to the front line, such as the cut to the Crisis Centre. This is not to undermine its potential for investing in areas, particularly deprived ones. However, there are concerns this can result in gentrification.

There are measures that the councils can take, the borrowing option provides some potential, whilst limited. However, illegal budgets seems to be the only really powerful alternative. It seems that the movement towards outlining the alternatives for councils needs to become better coordinated and more unified; councillors need to know they have the public’s backing. Whilst we should not take responsibility away from the councillors, we have to consider the effects the central government’s actions are having and how they should not be forgotten within local election campaigns as two-faced LibDems try to rewrite reality.

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10 thoughts on “The alternatives to councillors’ cutting…

  1. The truth is that the extent of the “cuts” is exaggerated – in Bradford our £56m in reductions represents around 5% of the gross budget. It must be in councils interests to reduce reliance on central government grant funding – which is why, despite the impact on places like Bradford, we must argue for the localising of business rates.

    Moreover, councils have significant revenue reserves that – in most places – aren’t being used to smooth the reductions and limit short-tern pain. Manchester – to take just one example – has nearly £300 million in revenue reserves and has chosen to close services rather than use these reserves.

    In truth – and looking at the cuts package labour will force through tomorrow in Bradford – the pain will not be anything like as great as it seems. Which says to me that local government has been over-manned for a long while.

    But then what do I know, huh!

    1. The effects upon councils vary, but i wouldn’t say 28% cuts over the next 4 years is exaggerated in terms of the effects this will cause.

      I saw someone mention the reserves, that is a good idea in the short term, yes – and it is a big problem councils such as Manchester have refused this. Encouraging the use of such reserves could become part of the movement to support councils in resisting the cuts.

      I respect your view, but I have to respectfully disagree. The cuts will cause a lot of pain for those who rely upon many of the services that are to be sacrificed; personally, I believe this needs to be resisted.

  2. I completely agree, but it will be difficult especially seeing what happened at a recent meeting of Islington Council to pass the cuts, where protesters were removed from the public galley by police and the meeting was moved to a private room.

  3. Thanks for the comment.

    Yes, that happened at Leeds too. The problem is the need for a better coordination by those opposed to the cuts. It will take time, but we need to build up a movement to help put more pressure on. But, we will face resistance such as that, regardless.

  4. Interesting to hear of LD opportunism in your neck of the woods; I wouldn’t be too surprised if they act similarly around me (LD MP forcing cuts on a Labour council)

    I don’t know if illegal budgets are the answer. They’d certainly grab attention but the risks of section 114 kicking in are too great.

    Perhaps the way forward to make it clear it’s being forced on councils (read it on a leftish blog, forgotten which) is for Labour councils (or Greens) to highlight what cuts would be implemented by s114 Officer (with fewer local considerations) if the councillors weren’t to cut.

    1. I know, same old LibDems. The LibDem MP has apparently done a bloody EDM on the cutting of the Crisis Centre. So infuriating.

      I think there are ways it could work, key would be building a broader movement to undermine the chance of isolation.

      I don’t know if many people will take the “it’s not my fault” argument. I agree that these cuts are largely due to the central government, but councillors need to take responsibility as well. However, there does need to be better coordination of possibilities councillors have. If illegal budgets were utilised, it has to be done with better strategic fashion than in the 1980s.

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