Sunday 23 September 2012

Key questions for the anti-cuts movement as councils start budget setting process

Brent Council, along with all other local councils and public sector bodies, are beginning the process of formulating its budget this month.   The anti-cuts movement is faced with what to say to councils as they review their policy in the face of reduced central government funding.

I outline some of the issues below. In the last two Brent by-elections Brent Green Party has stood anti-cuts candidates and the party as a whole has opposed the austerity agenda. However it is no secret that there has been disagreement over the minority Green council in Brighton and Hove, where a 'Purple Coalition' of Labour and Conservative councillors defeated the Green budget. The Greens rather than resigning, decided (with one dissenter) to work with the budget, which has led to the implementation of cuts.

Green Left, of which I am a member, organised a public debate on the situation which was reported in Red Pepper.LINK Romayne Phoenix, a supporter of Green Left, who is Chair of the Coalition of Resistance, stood in the recent leadership election which was won by Natalie Bennett. However, Will Duckworth,  her running mate, won the deputy leadership contest - not on the highest number of votes but because of our rules which require the deputy should be male if the leader is female and vice versa.
I think the main issues are:

1. Probably fundamental - whether local authorities have any real power when most of their funding comes from central government and that has been cut and is to be cut further.  LAs of whatever political complexion end up delivering central government cuts locally and have little room for manoeuvre once statutory services have been provided.
2. Whether devising a 'needs based' budget - either to shape an actual over-spend budget or as a campaigning tool to show the area needs more money than government.funding provides, is a demand we should make.
3.  If it is, how should we go about campaigning for such budgets and what form should consultations with the local community take?
4. Where do we stand on the raising of council taxes when local councils argue that this is the only way to protect vital services. Aren't  council tax rises,  particularly with the changes in council tax benefits, going to cut the disposable income of the poor even more?
5. If we decide that such rises are needed should we be triggering a local referendum on them to bring the cuts right out into open democratic debate?
6. The Brighton Question - the Socialist Party/TUSC are busy 'exposing' Labour (and probably Green) councils who implement cuts and advocating old Militant/Liverpool solutions of setting deficit budgets to defy the Coalition and being taken over by commissioners etc. They are planning to stand TUSC candidates in the local elections and re are busy building their platform now. (See Fightback Facebook
7. Recognise that cuts are being passed down the line and that soon school governing bodies will be facing making cuts in staffing (if they have not already done so). What should Green and anti-cuts governors do? (In answer to the question 'Are schools allowed to submit a deficit budget?' Brent Council  has responded 'No. A school that identifies a potential deficit must submit a deficit recovery plan, and work with [the council's] Children and Families Finance department to get formal approval for the deficit and recovery plan'.)
8. How do we build an anti-cuts movement across local authorities involving trade unions, political organisations, voluntary groups,  single issue local campaigns, patient groups, parents, etc?

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