Plymouth City Council Sets Budget: Democracy Cut First

It is one thing to put forward a budget which diligently adheres to Con-Dem austerity measures; it is quite another entirely to even deny questions from the public about matters relating to the budget. However, that is exactly what the Labour led council are doing in Plymouth.

The amount of “democracy” that is permitted in the Council Chamber is scarce at the best of times, with members of the public only allowed to submit a single question per City Council meeting up to a maximum of 50 words. Yet, not even this luxury is being afforded at a meeting that will discuss the setting of a budget which will hugely affect the lives of everyone in Plymouth.

Meetings of the full City Council can be unwelcoming at the best of times, with Councillors quickly shouting down anybody that dares step outside of the exact wording of questions. It can be very frustrating with the amount of hoops that have to be jumped through to even get a question submitted. Questions have to be submitted 5 clear working days before a Council meeting takes place which gives ample opportunity for Councillors to write wordy replies that often dodge the nub of a question. Moreover, without the right of reply you have to then wait a full 4-8 weeks to raise points or get further clarification on an issue.

Nevertheless, Plymouth’s Labour led Council has denied even this opportunity to the very people who will be hit hardest with the latest round of cuts which are being issued. Council workers are already seeking to ballot for strike action as they are being forced to sign new contracts with worse terms and conditions. In addition, many of the public services are being put out to tender as part of the “transformation agenda” which is synonymous with privatisation; as services which can be run by co-operatives can be bid on by the private sector within 3 years.

Members of the Socialist Party as part of the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) were planning to put questions to the Council to challenge them on their faithful implementation of Con-Dem cuts. However, the Council will not be allowing the opportunity which raises a myriad of questions for Plymouth voters to be thinking about.

If Labour really cannot provide an alternative to austerity why not at least be prepared to defend that position to members of the public? If Labour are going to faithfully continue to implement Tory austerity are they any different to the Tories? Who can people vote for if they want to see Councillors who will oppose all cuts, protect jobs and services and fight to see funding restored to pre-2010 levels?

There is only one electoral option which is making that commitment in Plymouth this May; TUSC. If you would like to get involved with the TUSC campaign and see an end to eye-watering cuts then help to build TUSC and be a part of the biggest electoral challenge TUSC has mounted yet:

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

Council Tax Benefit Cuts Hit Plymothians Hard, Plymothians Hit Back Harder

Plymouth City Council (PCC), which is a Labour-run council, chose to implement a 25% cut to Council Tax Benefit on April 1st despite sitting on reserves of £31.3 million when the cut was implemented. As a result of choosing to safeguard their reserves rather than some of Plymouth’s most poverty-stricken, nearly 8,000 Plymothians have gone into arrears as a direct result of cuts to Council Tax Benefit. PCC issued a mass summons of Plymothians for non-payment of Council Tax on Friday 16th August, the second mass summons since the cuts were introduced.

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The court hearings were listed for 14:00 and I’m sure the council officers were expecting just another day at the office. What they instead witnessed was a defiant message from people who are just starting to see the benefits of fighting back against these barbarous cuts.

Plymouth Against Benefit Cuts (PABC), the local campaign group set up by Socialist Party members to oppose the Bedroom Tax and cuts to Council Tax Benefit, organised a demonstration outside the court starting from 13:30. More than 25 people gathered outside the Magistrates’ Court in protest, including the local Unite Community Branch, a strong Socialist Party presence, campaigners involved with PABC as well as general supporters and the local press.

However, this was only the beginning as 6 campaigners, 1 of whom had been summonsed, went into the Magistrates’ Court to speak to others who had been summonsed. Campaigners encouraged those summonsed to speak out rather than accept that they should plunge themselves further into poverty to pay their council tax, which the Council Officers were more than happy to bully them into doing.

The Council Officers, who refused to identify themselves by name, were telling people that they could avoid the court costs if they made an arrangement to settle with the Council Officers outside the courtroom (It has since come to my attention that some of these Council Officers were actually Unite members so I only hope that these Council Officers can work in solidarity with us in the future to oppose these cuts). This would seem like a merciful gesture if it weren’t for the fact that the Council were the ones responsible for dragging these people to court in the first place, instead it has clearly been used a way of intimidating people into paying up.

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However, when one Socialist Party member who had been summonsed demanded to see the Magistrate others quickly started demanding the same. Not only that but thanks to some leaflets provided by Unite the Union, people were encouraged to use Unite’s payplan service. This is a service provided by Unite to give advice and help for those in debt. By using a debt management service like this, court proceedings have to be adjourned for 30 days which Council Officers were not too impressed about.

Many of those who attended court expressed an interest in PABC and want to come along to the next meeting to organise against these cuts. PABC, Plymouth’s Unite Community Branch and the Plymouth Branch of the Socialist Party have all vowed to return every time people are summonsed to court and are prepared to make the implementation of these cuts completely unworkable. Moreover, all 3 groups will be taking the fight to the Council next month as a lobby of the Council will be taking place on Monday 16th September.

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If Labour do not listen to this outburst of anger now, they are likely to be punished in the polls as the Socialist Party is organising a TUSC meeting in September in preparation for next year’s council elections. The Plymouth Branch of the Socialist Party is working with the RMT union as well as anti-cuts groups and is aiming to put forward 18 TUSC candidates in the May 2014 elections who will oppose cuts. If Plymouth’s Councillors will not listen to the outcry of those affected by the cuts they have chosen to make then maybe they will start listening as they begin losing their seats in the council.

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