Saturday, 19 February 2011

Could a 'Needs Budget' unite us?

It was clear as I was chatting during the by-election count on Thursday evening that there is a great deal of disquiet amongst some Labour councillors about the Council's cuts programme.

 "Me! Closing libraries... I can't believe it!" was the comment from one Labour councillor, while a former Lib Dem councillor lamented the lack of political power of ruling group councillors who aren't on the Executive. He said that the new 'cabinet' form of local government sharply reduced the role of 'back-bench' councillors.  It is those Labour councillors, often newly elected, who stood last time in order to improve the quality of life of Brent residents, who will be faced with a stark choice on February 28th when the full Council meeting is due to vote on the budget.

The Labour leadership has undermined its own position to some extent because they have denied that the cuts they propose will have a detrimental impact on already disadvantaged local people. To make the cuts palatable they have sought to placate opposition by insisting that those most in need will be protected and that the quality of service, despite massive staff cuts, will be maintained.   Added to this they have sometimes echoed David Cameron's 'Big Society' smokescreen by calling for volunteers to run libraries and other services. The people of Brent aren't fools and can see through the spin.

The Labour leadership thus separates itself from local community activists, users' groups and trades unionists who seek to defend public services. Rank and file councillors find themselves at odds with erstwhile friends, colleagues and comrades and some are sickened by the position they find themselves in.

Rather than act as the Coalition's bailiff's, Labour could be taking the lead in fighting the Coalition's cuts imposed at local and national government level by constructing a 'needs-led' budget in collaboration with local activists.  Rather than deny that the cuts will hit the most vulnerable they would analyse what services local people need to survive the forthcoming period of  economic turn-down and social stress and cost them.  They would also look at what investment and job creation needs to be made locally order for Brent  to move out of recession.   Such a budget would, for example,  immediately show that cuts in children centres, youth provision and Brent Law Centre are counter to the needs of local people.

Armed with this budget, and the detailed analysis on which it is based,  the Council could fight a campaign, alongside organisations such as Brent Fightback, against the Coalition cuts and make the case for fair funding for Brent based on the needs of the population.   They could also unite with Labour councils elected across London at the last election in a London wide campaign publicising the irrevocable damage public service cuts will cause.

LINK to report on similar campaign in Portsmouth

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