All Circus and No Bread: Plymouth City Council Cuts Budget and Democracy

Councillors sat today (Monday 27th February) to move the annual budget and yet again it’s the people of Plymouth that are being made to suffer.

With Labour having lost control of the council after the 2016 elections ending four years of Blairite Labour branded austerity the Conservatives and their allies in UKIP are now wielding the axe and they are certainly wasting no time.

It’s difficult to fathom how UKIP can in any way claim to be an “alternative” when they are lining up with the Tories to dish out more misery for ordinary Plymothians. Moreover, we hear once again about the need to be prudent and fiscally responsible from the Conservatives, yet they are continuing to slash services whilst having the gall to increase council tax for every household in Plymouth by 4.49%. This effectively means that the people of Plymouth will have to pay out even more despite the fact that the Tories and their friends in UKIP are further reducing the services which Plymouth City Council is offering. In short people will have to pay more for less.

The Tories have pinned the council tax rise on the need to raise funds to ensure the council is able to meet its requirements for providing adult social care. Rather than lumping the bill on the poorest and most vulnerable in Plymouth why hasn’t Ian Bowyer (Conservative leader of Plymouth City Council) demanded more funding from central government? If they can find extra money for Surrey, why not Plymouth? The people of Plymouth are being expected to pay out more in taxes whilst simultaneously having to put up with reduced bin collections as well as the potential closure of over half of Plymouth’s libraries to name but some of the cuts.

The Labour Councillors were ridiculing the Tories for making cuts and raising council tax but this is exactly what they themselves did over the four years that they had control of the council. However, their remarks were cut short when the Conservatives and UKIP decided to use their majority to end the debate early and go straight to the vote. It seems that the Conservatives are taking a leaf out of Trump’s book by stifling debate which UKIP fully supported.

Despite being cut short the Labour group could have used what time they had to table an alternative no cuts budget as I have suggested to them year after year before budget setting meetings. Corbyn supporters in the Labour Party have been much more open to discuss such an alternative but so far not a single one of Plymouth’s Labour Councillors has been open to even discussing a legal no cuts budget.

Plymouth is in desperate need of an alternative to austerity. We need Councillors who are going to stand up for public services rather than wield the axe. Whether that fight comes from Corbyn supporting Labour candidates prepared to unseat Blairites and oppose the cuts or whether that fight has to continue to come from TUSC, what matters is that fight needs to be had.

TUSC are prepared to continue in that fight and we are always happy to have fraternal discussions with any and all individuals and parties that are also willing to take up that struggle. Let’s build the alternative.

Ryan Aldred

Socialist Party Secretary and TUSC Election Agent

Cuts, Contradictions and Outright Lies

Plymouth City Council yesterday passed its annual budget and the entire spectacle was almost comical in its presentation but the trouble is that underneath all the blustering and posturing there was a very serious and all too familiar outcome.

Labour were happy to point out how damaging the cuts from central government have been when wagging their fingers at the Conservative opposition as they bragged about how much the Labour Council has achieved despite the cuts. Yet, Labour have obediently implemented another cuts budget and offered no real opposition in Plymouth to the attacks levied by central government.

Even a cursory glance at some of the figures showed some of the “achievements” Labour were less keen to boast about, such as the 16,911 people dragged through the courts for non-payment of Council Tax since slashing Council Tax Support by 20%. Moreover, Labour talked about the increasing pressure on adult social care and mental health services, undoubtedly a result of increasing poverty, which they responded to by cutting the funding for both adult and child social care.

This will inevitably put extra strain on the NHS which will have to pick up the slack. Thus, an extra £2.6 billion promised by Labour will be nothing more than tokenism when stacked against the cuts in pay, stretching of services and the privatisation which has already been introduced into the NHS, opening up a funding black hole. But I digress.

The Con-Dem inspired austerity budget, which cuts deeper and looks increasingly at outsourcing public services to the private sector, was pushed through by Labour’s majority of 1. However, the contradictions didn’t end there. UKIP broke their seeming vow of silence speaking for the first time at a full council meeting since being elected last May. Maddi Bridgman argued that people in her ward have not seen wage rises and that people are struggling but when given the opportunity to vote for a living wage she, and her two UKIP colleagues both voted against the motion. This demonstrates again that whilst UKIP posture about being for the people, when given the opportunity they vote against the interests of ordinary working-class people.

Worst of all, Labour resorted to outright lies as a means to sling mud at the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC), determined to taint a party which is exposing Labour for its lack of opposition to austerity. Councillor Bill Stevens alleged that “TUSC Councillor Alison Casey voted against the living wage” despite Alison Casey having no affiliation to TUSC and never being endorsed by the TUSC national steering committee as a representative of TUSC. The fact that Labour have to resort to such disgraceful and wholly dishonest tactics as a means to justifying its shambolic commitment to austerity is a disgrace and it will only hasten the “Pasokification” of the Labour Party.

TUSC remains committed to opposing all cuts and will be raising another full slate of candidates in Plymouth this May to firmly keep opposition of austerity on the agenda. If Labour will not oppose austerity then step aside because Plymothians cannot be subjected to further eye-watering cuts. This is the case whether it be at their “brilliant and co-operative” hands or the hands of the Con-Dems, UKIP or even the Greens, as exhibited in both Bristol and Brighton and Hove. Cuts are still cuts and they sting no matter who wields the axe; the solution is to vote for, and get involved with TUSC.

http://www.tusc.org.uk/support.php