Monday 13 January 2014

Loos, libraries, Humpty Dumpty and the fight against austerity
As local people fight against cuts here in Brent  there is often much to be learnt from other parts of the country. In this Guest Blog (first published in 'Speakers Corner; in the Bristol Post, Green Party member Julie Boston writes about a creative campaign to save public lavatories. Not a glamorous topic but a practical one that affects the daily lives of parents, the pregnant and the elderly and one that links to the whole austerity agenda as Julie shows.

 On Saturday 21 December 2013, a group of us spent an hour in central Bristol asking people to sign a petition headed ‘Save Our City’.

The Save Our City’ campaign is supported by trade unionists and people on the Left. In case the words Left and Right are vague, here’s a fellow pensioner’s definition to her grand-daughter. “People on the Left think things should be fair. People on the Right think things should be unfair!

For the past 100 years people have tried to make their cities fair. Bristol can be proud of owning more Council housing than many cities. Bristol City Council (BCC) still owns green open spaces, allotments, twenty five branch libraries, part of the Central Library, the M Shed, museums, some Primary Schools, public toilets, cemeteries, the roads and endless car parks.

But what happened to the buildings which used to house Bristol Day Centres, Care Homes, swimming pools and Youth Centres? I remember visiting some of them before the last round of BCC cuts. They were attractive and the atmosphere calm but busy. Did their sale generate profit to fund current services?  Does anyone know? Once they are in private ownership, information is protected by ‘commercial confidentiality’.

I am not convinced that the Mayor of Bristol appreciates the culture of public ownership, the need for the public sector and the need for elected councillors. He certainly does not understand the concept of paid public sector workforce which brings a certain amount of security to the individual and commitment to the job.  The Save Our City’ campaign aims to reject £90m of council cuts and protect up to 1,000 Bristol City Council jobs.

As a pensioner with a lifetime’s experience, I can say ‘public service good, private service bad’. My husband’s family of 5 children lived in rented accommodation until their dream of a council house came true in 1948. Our children were educated under the auspices of London County Council. The many benefits included reasonably funded buildings, school dinners, no homework and no stress.

As a bus pass holder, I can travel free and attend BCC meetings and am increasingly alarmed. At the Neighbourhoods and Communities Scrutiny Commission on 20 November 2013, Councillor Peter Hammond pointed out that BCC Property Officer’s promotion for renting out two floors of Bristol Central Library sounded like a holiday brochure. The low rent from Bristol Cathedral Free School and the 125 year lease is an insult to Bristol.

At BCC cabinet meeting on 5 December, the 126 pages long executive summary on re-tendering of Home Care, was accepted in 4 minutes ! Anyone with any experience of working in the privatised ‘care’ sector knows the long hours, low pay, lack of tea breaks and the deathly long daily commute.

However people are moving. The Council meeting on 17th December was inspiring and chaired humanely.  St Paul’s Learning Centre, Felix Road Adventure Playground, the Anti Bedroom Tax campaign, the Iliminster Road School and Hengrove Play Park all made their case strongly. Hengrove youtube, supported by all local councillors, was especially inspiring. But we need to go back to basics.

You cannot cut you way out of a recession. Austerity does not work.Save Our City’ does not accept that government’s austerity programme is necessary. The banks and the major corporations should be taxed at a rate which can provide the necessary resources to provide for the public sector.

The Mayor’s hostility to Bristol City Council (BCC) is confirmed with the appointment of Max Wilde ‘who will join the council in February as Strategic Director for Business Change, tasked with overseeing back office services and working as part of the council’s push to become a more efficient and less costly organisation’. These efficiencies sound remarkably like Barnet Council which has outsourced most of its activities to one of Private Eye's regular incompetents, Crapita.

For the past three years I have supported National Libraries Day as branch libraries are vital and branch libraries everywhere are threatened. In preparation for National Libraries Day in February, I arranged to meet a couple of friends from Anti Poll Tax days in Hartcliffe library only to find that loos not libraries are even more crucial.

Deb Smith, a care worker and UNISON member texted this to me:

Humpty Dumpty needed the loo

Humpty Dumpty needed a poo

George Ferguson had shut all the loos down

So Humpty Dumpty turned his pants Brown.

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