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

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Labour and Tories Enter Grand Cuts Coalition

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Since the General Election, Labour have been increasingly inward looking as they come to terms with falling horrendously short of shutting the Tories out. Drawing all of the wrong conclusions, the leadership are moving rightwards as they view their defeat in the polls as a sign that they were too left-wing. In reality, the lack of an alternative on offer is really the issue which has seen them falling short of forming the next Government. Labour promised to continue on with the austerity onslaught started by the Conservatives and their now collapsed Liberal Democrat partners and in doing so have been snubbed at the polls.

Despite the similarities in their economic strategy, Labour had nevertheless been posing themselves as an alternative to the Conservatives in their rhetoric. This will have undoubtedly swayed many voters who have seen Labour move further and further rightwards but would hold their nose and remain faithful to Labour to “stop the Tories getting in”. It will therefore come as a shock to many of these people to see Labour reveal how far they have degenerated as they have now formally agreed to share power with the Conservatives in Plymouth’s hung council.

http://www.plymouthherald.co.uk/Labour-strikes-power-sharing-deal-Conservatives/story-26553401-detail/story.html

Labour will no doubt justify this arrangement as a means of shutting the 3 UKIP Councillors out from becoming kingmakers with the Tories now that Labour have lost their majority on the council. If that is the case then Labour will quickly fall to pieces as it is simply siding with what it considers to be the least worst of two bad options. If Labour were willing to take more of a lead and not implement the eye-watering cuts passed down from national level they would probably never have lost their majority on the council but this latest move will only alienate those who will have voted Labour to keep the Tories out.

In light of this move, Plymouth’s 3 UKIP Councillors will most likely portray themselves as the rebellious anti-establishment underdogs but only a cursory glance at their voting patterns shows that they are just as much a part of the problem. Having offered no resistance to the cuts by not tabling an alternative budget and even voting against implementing a living wage for all Council staff, it is clear that UKIP in Plymouth are just another brand of establishment offering another brand of austerity.

With no illusions in Labour as the reality of this grand cuts coalition will start going about its business of butchering public services, people will very quickly start looking for alternatives. The trade union leaders will now have a very difficult time arguing that Labour are an alternative when the evidence is clearly showing otherwise. The attacks on jobs, conditions and public services will now come thick and fast and people will be looking for a means of organising to fight back and resist the compounding of an already desperate situation.

People will not need to look far as the Socialist Party and TUSC continue to campaign for an end to the cuts and the immediate implementation of a £10 an hour minimum wage, standing shoulder to shoulder with workers as they take to strike action. Labour’s collaboration with the Tories shows that they are not in any way an alternative. We can either mourn at the loss of a Party that is no longer ours or we can be part of the building of an alternative that effectively counters what the Tories have in store for us. Now is the time to get involved with TUSC, join the Socialist Party and build a movement to end austerity.

Don’t forget to like, comment and follow this blog if you are interested in hearing more political analysis in future posts.

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

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.

16 08 13 Demo

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.

16 08 13 Demo1

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.

16 08 13 Demo2

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.

Election Reflections: A Working-Class That Bites Back First Needs TUSCs!

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As many of my friends will know, I have been frantically working hard to mount a campaign in the Southway by-election to raise the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition or TUSC Party as an alternative to austerity. On Thursday the 27th June the election took place and I attended the count with Sam to see the fruits of my labour.

With less than 1% of the vote it could certainly be said that I was underwhelming when it came to providing that alternative. However, I am not arrogant enough to think that I can speak for the working-classes, they have their own voice and are more than capable of speaking up and speaking out when they are ready to. It did of course sting a little that I only managed to muster 22 votes (0.76%) but that means that 22 people did believe in the alternative that TUSC and indeed I have to offer as a representative of TUSC.

The 22 votes that I received also needs to be analysed in the wider context of surrounding events. In many ways the working-classes spoke out with a very loud voice; only 29.24% of the electorate turned out to vote. This deafening silence in electoral politics suggests that people have very little faith in changing things through the ballot box. This could be because of apathy but more likely it is because the majority of people don’t believe that there is a viable alternative to the main parties which have all adopted the neo-liberal consensus. This is clearly something that could have affected the votes which TUSC received. However, with relatively few numbers on the ground it is hard to get the comprehensive policies of TUSC across to approximately 10,000 people in a few short weeks.

Looking at the voting patterns it is clear that an alternative is being sought. The Conservatives, who had held the seat were relegated to third place in this by-election and the Liberal Democrats received less than 3% of the vote. The independent candidate in the area, who received quite a sizeable vote (10%), suggested that Party politics needed to be rejected. It is clear that the austerity measures have caused an outcry of working-class people who have instead put their faith in Labour, and to a lesser extent, UKIP. This is not surprising as Labour would seem the obvious choice for many as a vehicle to oust the Tories and UKIP seems to be quickly becoming the established electoral protest vote.

While this may send a message to the Tories, Ed Miliband has effectively given them the green light to slash and burn the quickly shrinking remnants of the welfare state as he has said that cuts are unavoidable and will not be reversed by Labour. People may have elected Labour in resistance to Tory callousness but Labour are hardly what one would call a resistance seeing as it is hard to nail down exactly what they would be doing differently to the Tories. The Council in Plymouth has been Labour-led for some time now and yet we still have cuts, we still have the bedroom tax, we still have council reserves in the multi-millions and a population which is gradually seeing living standards decline to the point of almost universal poverty.

I have questioned the council on a number of occasions about what they plan to do regarding issues which are having a severe impact on Plymothians and I’m generally met with long-winded responses about how the council is facing tough times but they are doing the best they can. Nevertheless, the bottom line is that the council continues to sit on piles of money while people face cuts to benefits that they desperately need as the unemployment rate remains sky high, the bedroom tax is still being demanded of the poor and vulnerable, the bailiffs are being prepped to collect council tax debts and the city centre looks more and more like a ghost town with more shops closed than open, except of course for the corporate tax-dodging giants.

Here’s a link to my lobby of the council last month:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vnheu6gFDLg

The issue of UKIP is also of great concern. While they are seemingly being brandished by the electorate as a stick to bash the mainstream parties with, by giving support to UKIP working-class people are making a rod for their own back. Every member of the UKIP election team that I spoke to was an ex-Tory member. For a Party that is posing as an alternative to the mainstream it doesn’t seem to have anything to bring to the political table other than more cuts and changes which would damage rather than boost working-class families. Not even the Tories have tried to tax those on the lowest incomes 27% of their wage, something which UKIP would do with their flat rate tax which would mean everyone paying the same percentage of tax whether you’re a bin-man or a banker. The Party has come under fire countless times due to bigotry, racism, sexism, homophobia and some very outlandish and draconian views on certain issues. This is also the Party whose “esteemed” leader has been caught dodging taxes by setting up a trust fund on the Isle of Mann. All in all UKIP seem to be a caricature of the Parties that they claim to be opposing rather than a viable alternative to austerity.

This is the first time that TUSC stood in the Southway ward and I’m sure it wasn’t helped by the fact that the Herald seemingly forgot to publish my reasons for standing and my photo in the paper when the other five candidates were featured the day before the election. I appreciate the time they took to publish articles online about me and would like to say thanks to Sian Davies who put a lot of work into covering this election but I do wonder why I was not featured in the newspaper.

I do wonder what the result would have been if I had got that little bit of extra publicity but it is pointless to wonder what could have been. As much as it seems underwhelming to have only received 22 votes, the TUSC campaign received incredible levels of support from working-class people. With such a short amount of time to mount a campaign, we found it difficult to get our leaflets out to the whole ward and have enough time left over to do some canvassing. The few people we did manage to talk to quickly warmed to our stance of no cuts and the Socialist Party has gained a number of contacts to help our party grow. There is also the fact that in such a short space of time so many people did their best to help out where they could. I don’t have a great deal of links in Southway but so many of my friends supported the campaign in any way they could.

I have had friends advertise my election campaign material in their places of work, friends spread my Herald articles all over facebook and helped to distribute leaflets and talk to the people of Southway, Tamerton Foliot and Widewell. The Socialist Party have been stalwart supporters and contributors of this campaign and I am so glad to be in amongst their ranks. I have no doubt that in the elections of May 2014 when 18 council seats will be up for grabs, TUSC will really hit the ground running, particularly as all Plymothians will get the opportunity to vote, not just in a ward that TUSC is only just breaking ground in.

We are going to need support, volunteers and people who would be happy to stand on a no cuts platform if we are to try and fill the 18 seats coming up in May. If you would like to help out with the campaign or take up the TUSC banner and speak out for the working-class people who are bearing the brunt of a crisis brought on by bankers and tax-dodgers then feel free to get in touch with me by email on rjaldred@hotmail.com

If you would like to know a bit more about where my passion stems from and if you would like to meet like-minded people who believe that there is an alternative to austerity then why not come along to the Socialist Party Plymouth Branch’s meeting on Tuesday 9th July at 19:00 at the Plymouth Social Club (Tavistock Place, behind the Central Library).

The working-class people of Plymouth, and indeed nationally, need to make a stand against the Parties that have left them behind and forced them into poverty with austerity measures while protecting the tax-dodgers and bankers. They need a party made up of workers, who will campaign on issues that affect workers.

I would like to give thanks to Jeremy Guise, Tony Staunton, Sam Taylor-Wickenden, Clare Lattimore, Aimee Clayton, George Fidler, Keith Low and Tom Taylor for helping out with the election campaign.

I would also like to give a special thanks to Justin Pollard, Louise Alldridge, Karl Wesemann, Tom Sloman, Rob Rooney (my election agent), Alex Moore, Nigel Buckley and last, but by no means least, Steve Merritt for the superlative efforts you all put into supporting this campaign and keeping me going throughout this hectic few weeks. I have thoroughly enjoyed working with you all to build a collective alternative and it was great to see new comrades join the fray, jump straight into action and come back hungrier for more each week.

I shall leave you all with this: If working-class people are to really bite back at the greed, corruption and ideology which is making them suffer, what they need is TUSCs!

A Victory Against the Bedroom Tax

bedroom tax

Plymouth City Council has demonstrated, at least in principal, that it understands the concerns of the people of Plymouth and is not completely out of touch, unlike the government of millionaires. This government keeps saying that we are all having to do without and yet while the rest of us face austerity measures, millionaires have just received tax cuts.

These measures are ideologically driven by a group of self-servatives who have naught but their own interests at heart. They are using divide and rule tactics to pit public against private sector, Brits against immigrants workers and workers against benefit claimants. The real issue is that the government’s heavy-handed and ideologically driven approach has led to a triple-dip recession. They are incompetent, inconsiderate of the deepening poverty levels that their austerity measures are causing and are only out to line their own pockets.

Plymouth City Council has spoken and voted 34 votes to 20 to scrap the bedroom tax. They will now be calling on Iain Duncan Smith and Plymouth area MPs, as will I. The spare room subsidy/bedroom tax and cuts to council tax benefits do not affect me personally. I just know that the policy is brutally targetting the poorest and most vulnerable and my conscience cannot allow this to pass.

This is a great victory on our part but we cannot allow ourselves to get complacent just yet. The important thing now is to remain focussed; The Council have moved to call for the scrapping of the policy but that does not make it go away. We now need to focus our efforts on lobbying Iain Duncan Smith and our Plymouth MP’s, particularly as Gary Streeter MP and Oliver Colvile MP voted for the Bedroom Tax (verified by http://www.theyworkforyou.com).

We also need to be mindful that though it is now Plymouth Policy to scrap the Bedroom Tax there is still much to be done to mitigate its effects. We can now try to push for the Council to write to housing associations advising them to reclassify their social housing as a way to get around the Bedroom Tax. We can also write to the housing associations directly to ask that they do so.

There is one other point that must be remembered. Cuts to Council Tax Benefits will affect far more than the bedroom tax and requires that people reduce their minuscule budgets even more to accommodate for the extra cost of paying it. This is something that was barely discussed in the full council meeting (dated Monday 22nd April 2013). However, we were informed that the council is willing to use bailiffs to evict those who accrue debts from non-payment of Council Tax. This is a serious issue which needs to be challenged at every avenue. The Labour Councillors spoke out against the injustices and hardships faced by those having to pay the Bedroom Tax. We now need to pressure them to act on their fervent words and expose and oppose the cuts to Council Tax benefit which they have chosen to impose.

I would like to remind you all that there is a Plymouth Against Benefit Cuts meeting tonight (Wednesday 24th April) at 19:00 in Plymouth Social Club (on Tavistock Place, behind the Central Library) and I hope that many of you can attend, as much to celebrate a victory as to plan our next steps!

My thanks go out to all those who have helped to see this campaign through to this point and I hope that with this, our first victory, you’ll be encouraged to help us see these brutal reforms completely and utterly reversed.

Here is an article about the Council lobby organised by members of Plymouth Against Benefit Cuts and members of the Socialist Party:

http://www.thisisplymouth.co.uk/Council-urged-protect-poor-welfare-reforms/story-18787789-detail/story.html#axzz2REMFcRxf

To see the Council lobby and full debate on the bedroom tax, check out this webcast:

http://connect.plymouth.public-i.tv/site/player/pl_v7.php?a=89096&t&m=flash&l=en_GB

Questions start at 19:15

For the Full Bedroom Tax Debate skip to 3:33:15

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