Guest blog by Alan Story
When you in a very bad relationship or in a marriage that cannot be saved, the first thing you need to do is to admit to yourself: “you know what, I've made a horrible mistake.”
But nearly six years after Labour-control Sheffield City Council (SCC) signed a disastrous £2.2 billion PFI contract and on a day when the Sheffield trees crisis featured in the New York Times no less, the local Labour Party has again pulled down the shutters and refused to address the havoc that SCC’s relationship with Amey plc is causing to our now-privatised streets and privatised street trees.
The occasion was the monthly meeting Tuesday night (13 March) of the Sheffield District Labour Party (DLP) meeting. Outside, 35 picketers/ tree campaigners had come together for what was likely the largest picket ever held in front of a Sheffield Labour Party meeting.
But as delegates inside discussed the draft election manifesto it will use for the 3 May election, it was clear that most of those in attendance at the local party's highest decision-making body still did not grasp the basics of what was going wrong on the streets of Sheffield. (Those in attendance included Council Leader Julie Dore who came late and, sadly, after most of the 35 picketers had dispersed.)
Yes, there was concern raised about the contracting out of public sector jobs as a result of the work being done under the profit-making auspices of Amey plc. And yes, that is ONE problem with this PFI deal and, indeed, all PFI deals.
But what delegates failed to understand is that it is the very nature of THE WORK being undertaken which is the main problem. In other words, the planned felling of 17,500 street trees is NOT the same thing as the contracting out of NHS jobs to a US-owned healthcare corporation. Or transforming state schools into profit-driven academies.
This is what a significant number of LP members just do not get.
On one level, to bring contracted out jobs "in house" has, since the September 2017 national Labour Party convention, become National Labour Party policy. It is becoming harder and harder for the SCC to operate a PFI deal that is in direct contravention to the national policy of its own party.
But by focusing almost exclusively on the contracting out jobs issue, the local Labour Party last night again missed the big picture, they didn’t see the forests for the trees ….if you will.
As several observers at last night's meeting confirmed, most DLP delegates failed to address a wide range of issues, such as:
1) Why 17,500 mostly healthy trees were ever planned for the chop back in 2012. (It took a recent successful FOI request by Paul Selby to uncover that SCC has being duplicitous to Sheffield residents about planned tree felling number since the 25-year-long contract was first signed.) More than 5500 mostly healthy trees have already come down.
2) The value of trees for the slowing climate change. SCC cabinet minister Jack Scott, who also attended last night's session, denies they have any value.
3) Why SCC is acting with such contempt for local democratic functioning when it ignores the advice of tree experts and the wishes of local residents and simply carries on willy-nilly with its ruthless chainsaw war.
4) Why squads of South Yorkshire Police have been mobilised across the city and are at the beck-and-call of SCC, who are in a serious political fix, and Amey, who are only interested in their bottom line. (It is hardly surprising that tree campaigners now call SYP “Amey’s police.")
5) Why SCC has applied for civic injunctions to stop peaceful protest and has forced tree campaigners to raise tens of thousands of pounds to defend themselves against the actions of this profoundly authoritarian local council. (Pardon the plug: in the current campaign, 440 supporters have raised more than £11,500 in less than five days: https://www.crowdfunder.co.uk/stump-up-sheffield)
6) In fact, you don’t even get the sense that some of these so-called LP “lefties” really grasp what privatisation means. For example, how can it be a step toward socialism when a public agency like SYP (directed by a Labour Party Police Commissioner) protects a Spanish-owned multinational corporation (operating under a PFI deal negotiated by the free market LibDems) as it pillages a street of much-loved cherry trees on Abbeydale Park Rise (that are lit with lights every Christmas to raise funds for a hospice)?
7) The value of street trees as things of beauty, as a home for birds, and as promoters of mental health (If I hear one more Labour Party flunky tell me that working-class people "hate trees" I will scream.)
8) Why it is just so wrong to call in (or threaten to call in) social services against the parents of youthful tree campaigners, one of whom rode over on his bicycle and was with us last night.
9) Why there was a leak to the media of the preposterous tale that a 59-year-old architect served poisoned tea to three street tree fellers on her own street. Hold The Star’s front page: next thing you know they'll be telling us that Calvin Payne's backpack is stocked up with nerve gas.
The list could on and on.
What local Labour does not get is what a newspaper headline said back in October: “Look to Sheffield: this is how state and corporate power subverts democracy.”