Another Year, Another Cuts Budget For Brum

On the 10th of January 2018 Birmingham Socialist Party activists attended the first and last public budget ‘consultation’ meeting of Birmingham City Council.

 

It had been decided by cabinet members that only one public meeting would suffice and it was to be held at the council house in the city centre. It goes without saying that this caused a barrier for many residents of Birmingham to potentially attend this consultation and have their concerns and voice’s heard due to several factors such as mobility issues, work shifts, family obligations etc.

 

So seeing how important this new budget is and how it is going to detrimentally affect the people of Birmingham through massive funding reductions to their public services you would think cabinet members of the council would want to inform and engage as many residents as possible by holding several local community based meetings in order to enable as many people to attend.

Apparently this was not done as internal council statistics & experience showed more people engaged via social media and on-line surveys. This was not believed by anyone in attendance. In truth this was no ‘consultation’ as cabinet members had decided long before to pass the cuts and it was easier to hold one big rubber-stamp meeting in the convenience of their own offices so a box could be ticked and they could just continue with business as usual.

 

This impression was only strengthened by the use of language and tone by council leader Ian Ward, who during his introduction of the budget meeting came across as if he was just going through the motions and was already defeated. There was no talk of a fightback and a programme of resistance, but instead that the council had exhausted its ‘’lobbying options’’. An excuse that is not good enough when it comes to the living standards of working-class people in this city.      

 

Despite this many people showed up and members of the audience made the crucial points of how these cuts would only bring misery and compound the many social issues in Birmingham such as the growing number of people becoming homeless and youth unemployment. Specifically campaigners from local nurseries and homecare workers who are currently seeing their funding cut relayed to council how the vital services they provide are a lifeline for many families in the city, especially for those from lower income backgrounds. It’s not speculation but fact that if funding is cut, contact time reduced and staff made redundant we will see the already growing levels of deprivation in this city skyrocket.

 

There were two main themes I saw being the most stark when it came to this Labour council doing the Tories' dirty work, those being the question of why are these cuts being made in the first place and is there no alternative?

 

These large-scale cuts kicked off over 10 years ago, following from a financial crisis caused by greedy bankers speculating away the nations wealth. But instead of them and their friends in the Conservative party paying for their mistake it was shifted onto normal working-class people, instead of cutting from the top who could afford it the cuts were targeted at the bottom attacking our schools, jobs and public services whilst the very same bankers got pay-rises and corporations hide billions in tax evasion.

 

 

With this in mind it is understandable that members of the audience, many of whom  have experienced first-hand how devastating these cuts are, to have Labour representatives which is meant to be a party to defend the working-class to meekly say that the £750m+ worth of cuts made from 2010 up to 2022 has been done with a heavy heart is not legitimate excuse.

Council leader Ian Ward

As members of the Socialist Party Bill Murray & Eamon Flynn raised, these cuts are a political choice not a practical necessity, especially seeing how Britain is one of the wealthiest countries on the face of planet. These members raised the points how the much welcomed anti-austerity politics coming from the top of Labour party from a select few such as Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell needs to start being reflected on the ground by Labour councils.

This could be done if these Labour councils spearheaded a mass campaign of refusing to implement the cuts using council reserves to ward of any austerity in the short term using it as a springboard to mobilise working-class communities against the closure of their public services and to win back the funding cut by central government over the last eight years. This could draw inspiration from previous victories such as the heroic battle that took place in Liverpool in the 1980’s where the Militant Labour council (precursor of the Socialist Party) instead of passing the cuts mobilised a grass roots campaign across the city including activists, students, trade unions resulting in more homes, schools and public services being built . This was a huge victory against the Iron Lady, Margaret Thatcher, at the hight of her power - so why is Birmingham Labour council so scared of the weak and wobbly Theresa May at her weakest alongside a fractured Tory party?

 

This was not only raised by SP members but by trade unionists including representatives from the newly formed National Education Union stating that if this council actually fought against these cuts, by demanding the money from this government to set up a real peoples budget that saw no reduction in public service spending, then alongside several other unions they would back and practically assist in the building of such a campaign.

 

It’s time this council started actually taking the fight to the Tories instead of fellow workers, like we saw with appalling attacks on the working conditions of the bin workers. We were told in these tough times not a single penny could be wasted so why did this Labour Council waste over £6 million in the hiring of a scab army and legal procedures to undermine industrial action whilst it would of just took £300,000 to settle the dispute and maintain all the grade 3 health & safety staff. Pick your battles BCC!  

 

However despite the many offers of support and ideas to build this campaign when it came to the end of the meeting all the cabinet members present (except councillor Trickett who had left earlier for another engagement and spent the majority of the meeting looking at her phone) stated a plethora of cop-out excuses and small violin sympathies why their ‘hands were tied’. Yet still at the end of every reply each one of them emphasised that we need to make sure we vote for them come next local election, trying to convince members of the audience they had their best interest at heart by using semi-agitational language whilst referring to the Tories.

 

However if they are not prepared to fight against the cuts then they should step down and let some of the new layers of Corbyn-inspired / anti-cuts Labour campaigners run for their position instead. Otherwise, when it comes to the local elections in May how can they honestly expect working-class people to vote for the axemen of their services? Instead they will find anti-cuts candidates outside the Labour party standing against them in order to provide a platform for a anti-austerity message and campaign to reach new layers of workers in Birmingham and across the country.                                           

 

             

Written by workers for workers.

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