These are national cuts on local government

I received an email from Bristol & District Anti-Cuts Alliance this week. I nearly always agree with BADACA, but on this occasion I think they need to have a look again at the situation that all of us in the anti-cuts movement find ourselves in.

I went on the march on Saturday against the regional pay cartel that the Coalition is foisting on South West health workers. It was an occasion that showed the economic illiteracy of the government’s approach and strengthened the resolve of all those present to fight the cuts at all levels. I have also been helping with the 38 Degrees CCGs campaign in challenging the Clinical Commissioning Groups to use their constitutions to keep services in-house and not make them open to “any willing provider”.

However, I think there is a bit of a misunderstanding of the role and scope of local government as it presently stands. In Bristol, we in the Green Party have always argued for greater abilities to raise and retain revenue. In Barcelona, over 50% of all taxes raised and spent in the area are handled by the city authority, but in the UK the percentage is more like 17%. This creates a significant imbalance between central and local government, which recent policies, such as business rate relocalisation, do not go far enough to address.

So this is the context in which I read everything. The BADACA email began:

BRISTOL & DISTRICT ANTI-CUTS ALLIANCE BULLETIN – 30th November 2012

Ferguson’s Cuts Cabinet – Outside Fighting Is The Place To Be

Mayor George Ferguson is committed to carrying out the government’s dictat – £32 million more cuts in Bristol’s jobs and services next year. His attempt to lure Labour and Green councillors into his cabinet should have been seen for what it was – trying to show that these parties have no alternative to the cuts and then to share the blame as the opposition grows. As such it was an invitation that should have been rejected out of hand.

Labour’s decision not to take part, although made rather ham-fistedly, is entirely correct. But the alternative is not to sit in the council chamber making minor criticisms of the mayor’s cuts package. It is building resistance to the cuts. Is that where we’ll see Labour councillors and Labour party members? And will the Greens withdraw from Ferguson’s Cuts Cabinet too? The first meeting of the Cuts Cabinet is now scheduled for December 20th.

Here is my response:

1) Yes, mayor George Ferguson is committed to carrying out the government’s cuts. So would any of the other candidates for mayor, including the Green, Respect and TUSC candidates. You cannot set a needs budget without it being deemed illegal and civil servants stepping in to do your job for you.

2) I admit that there is a widely-held suspicion that George is some sort of Machiavellian schemer, but even I baulk at the idea that his intention for getting all parties to the table to advise him was a plot to show that Greens have no alternatives to the cuts. Within the first month of the Coalition government, Green MP and former leader Caroline Lucas had this to say: http://www.greenparty.org.uk/news/2010-06-19-callous-cuts-report.html

Greens have alternatives to the cuts and we will be working both inside and outside the cabinet, in a variety of ways, to fight austerity and deliver the fairest possible budget for Bristol.

3) The Green Party will not share the blame for these cuts. They are not ours. They are the Coalition government’s.

In that sense, neither should local councilors be blamed. The only thing that local government can do to reduce the scale of the cuts is increase council tax. Last year we  proposed the maximum legal increase of 3.49%. This increase would have meant that we would have been £6.3m better off this year.  No other party supported us with this measure, preferring to freeze council tax and accept the government bribe. George Ferguson has announced that he will be increasing the council tax by the maximum amount, which has now been reduced to 2% by the Coalition. We support this rise, although it will not be universally popular.

So the “choice” (such as it is) is between cutting services or raising council tax. There are more opportunities to mitigate the effects of council tax rise, and so I think it is better to do this, particularly as there are a lot of people in the city who can afford to pay a bit more.

4) George, being an economic liberal, has a different approach to the Green Party in many ways. But is it better for one of us to be sitting there saving vital local services, or carping from the sidelines and having no direct line of influence? Essentially, with this mayoral model (which the Green Party campaigned against vociferously, but now have to accept until there is an opportunity to change it), you are either in the mayor’s cabinet and influencing it, or you are without any executive power.

5) Scrutiny and opposition are DOUBLY important now we are working under the mayoral model, and those of us in the anti-cuts movement should be bringing our activism to bear on these committees and meetings.

6) The Labour Party national policy is not significantly different to the Coalition’s. The Green Party’s national policy involves radical change, including an end to austerity: http://www.greenparty.org.uk/news/2010-06-19-callous-cuts-report.html

Bristol City Council is not the correct place to to argue about national policy. Indeed, no part of the Tory-led Coalition’s policy can be changed by speeches at City Hall (nee Council House). Just remember: when you begin to hear Labour Party councillors make speeches about how terrible the cuts are (and they will be right), please ask yourself: “nationally, who has argued against the cuts at every turn and provided reasoned economic alternatives, and who blithely accepts that it is just the pace and quantity of cuts that can be altered?”

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11 thoughts on “These are national cuts on local government”

  1. I’d add that it is ridiculous to applaud the Labour Party for not joining the cabinet. It is only through their massive incompetence that they failed to win the election.

    Had they won, as they should, they would have been making the cuts, and probably the same cuts as George will have to make.

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  2. I so want to agree with you Rob, but “I am fundamentally against the cuts, but I have no choice, so I will” ? Lucky Gandhi and Rosa Parks didn’t share this view. It doesn’t matter which part of the animal you cut the meat from, you still have to kill the cow to do it.

    If somehow being part of the cabinet allows The Green Party more media time with which to promote their anti cuts stance and anti cuts alternative I suppose it could be worth it and also its a good point about being in cabinet to have a say on which services survive, but by participating in the making of cuts you are partially validating that process are you not? That’s the bit that irks.

    These cuts are ideologically motivated and absolutely wrong. They are a fraudulent theft from the most vulnerable and needy and totally unnecessary, as you say yourself.

    The public will see the greens as validating these cuts, and ironically will see labour as opposing them. By joining the cabinet the greens could do irreparable damage to themselves, much the same way ad the lib dems nationally.

    That is a travesty to be thoroughly ashamed of, because it will leave us with the same old tired and failed Tory/Labour shit heap politics, that keeps propagating our societies demise.

    mind you, every cloud has a silver lining. all poison can be turned into medicine. let them cut the cash budget, its only cash aftetall. its not as if its anything important. They’re not cutting the “actual resources” that are available on the planet, they’re not cutting the amount of food available, theyre not cutting the amount of labour that’s available, they’re not cutting the amount of materials that are available, they’re only cutting the money, they’re only cutting the “means of exchange”. I say let them. Once they’ve cut the means of exchange enough, the alternative will rise. Human co-operation and coexistence. Win:win 😉

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  3. Gus, myself or anyone in the Green Party has never said “I am fundamentally against the cuts, but I have no choice, so I will”. Where did you get that from?

    We do have a choice, and the choice is between providing a way to mitigate the cuts, or letting an economic right-winger (George) and two pro-cuts party have all the say.

    I think we will be able to say we are anti-cuts very clearly and definitely throughout this process.

    The process is going to happen. I’m sorry, but as the title of this blog suggests, this is something IMPOSED on Bristol, not of Bristol’s own making. Participating in the process does not mean validating the Tory-Lib Dem-Labour consensus on the need for cuts. Instead, it is a means to question them and try to mitigate them as much as is possible.

    The public can see the Greens as validating these cuts all they like. If they do, I will link them to this blog and explain that it is better to mitigate the cuts that the Tories are handing down, rather than be in pristine opposition with the axe falling wherever the Ind-Tory-Lib Dem axis dictates. Isn’t it comforting to know that 1/3rd of the cabinet will be fiscally left-of-centre?

    We will not shirk from pointing out that Labour are taking the expedient and morally bankrupt option by refusing to cooperate consensually, by carping about opposing cuts from the safety of the opposition benches, and by failing to provide a meaningful alternative. You know this is the case.

    I know what you’re saying about the “Lib Dem scenario”. But there are three other parties in this cabinet and it isn’t Gus who decides on the budget – it is the mayor. Nationally, the Lib Dems are implacated in all the cuts as it is a relationship of equals (in theory). The mayoral model dictates that in Bristol, it’s the mayor who decides and can be blamed. Vote him out in 3.5 years’ time if you don’t like the way he handled the cuts!

    I am fighting and railing against the return of two party politics, but this is partly why I think we need more Greens in positions of influence. We need to prove we are a safe pair of hands and get rid of this notion that green economics is unviable and unrealistic. It isn’t! It’s the only thing that will get us out of the mess we’re in…

    I’m glad you ended your comment with some positivity! 🙂

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  4. The Badaca statement actually posits a third position the greens could take, which is “resistance”.

    Presumably they mean by fighting cuts outside of the representative democratic process?

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    1. I’m not sure how you do that beyond going to every demo, talking to service providers, spreading a good understanding of the effect the cuts are having, and organising other actions yourself. This is certainly resistance of the kind I imagine too, but it seems to me that those are all things that access to the representative democratic process gives you MORE ability to influence, not less.

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  5. Best form of resistance is to get involved in the making the alternative ways of doing things happen, transition movement, gift economy, alternative currencies, freeconomy, freecycle etc. That’s what’s happening in Spain.

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  6. It’s a bit of a nightmare I know, and I also know sometimes you’ve got to play the long game, but I can’t get away from the fact the cuts are ideologically wrong and therefore helping implement them is not an option, even if its doing so while making it clear I don’t agree with what I am doing.

    Of course watching from the outside is pretty powerless too, but I think the green party should be shouting the “real” alternative from the rooftops. Afterall they do have a real anti austerity alternative, whereas the labour party don’t.

    The alternative is to create an abundance of human resources and creativity with the freedom to provide the services everyone needs.

    And you know what I’m going to say next……… that can be done by paying everyone an unconditional citizens income.

    If somehow being in cabinet with George, you can appeal to his more maverick “outside the box” nature, and come up/experiment with ways to start giving people this unconditional citizens income then it may be worth the risk.

    Obviously doing it by paying cash will be nigh impossible, but providing basic resources like food, accommodation to an experimental group or community may be a start. I don’t know, there must be other ways. Maybe have a Mayoral hosted “open space” session to brain storm ways to do it

    Anyway that would be my solution as well as educating people about the true nature of money, how it really works, and why cuts are unnecessary and fundamentally flawed and wrong

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  7. I should point out that technically only half of the Green Party’s Bristol councillors are in the cabinet. The other half isn’t.

    The real anti-austerity narrative is what Gus can bring to the table in the cabinet. It otherwise wouldn’t be there.

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  8. The Mayor is implementing the cuts, but by being on the cabinet Gus has more of an influence on this, and the areas of communities and environment.

    A council has to set a budget – cuts or no cuts. It’s like saying “this is a crappy situation but I would rather be taking responsibility for it in the best way I can rather than leave economic illiterates to do it all for us.”

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