What can Southampton Labour Council do to stop the cuts?
“It is very disappointing to us and the people of this city that we find ourselves here in this chamber once again, on the verge of witnessing another devastating round of cuts that will heap yet more misery on our city.”
Deputation by Declan Clune, Southampton TUSC, to Southampton Council budget setting meeting, Wednesday 10 February.
“The reason for this long and painful period of austerity is well known being as it is ideologically led by the Conservative Party, some of whose representatives we have in this chamber. It is clearly evident to all how the party that is so willing to allow multibillion pound corporations get away with paying little or no tax in some cases, the party that is committed to ensuring that the workers and poor in this country pay for a crisis that was not of their doing, are so committed as part of that agenda to strip away every public asset we have in our communities.
In recent years we have lost youth services in this city, we have lost the Bitterne Walk-in Centre, Woodside Lodge, (an essential service for sufferers of dementia and Altzeimers) our libraries and sure start centres reduced or taken away, along with all the jobs that existed in those services reduced and stripped away. The latest round of cuts have threatened another essential service for our city’s elderly and vulnerable people in Brownhill House, where will this end?
Throughout the years this has taken place, we in TUSC have addressed you before to raise the real opportunity to resist these cuts time and time again. The brave and inspirational stance of Southampton Councillors Against Cuts, Keith Morrell and Don Thomas who refused to vote for the cuts was ridiculed and ignored by members here today. Those people ridiculing this stance claimed that it was political suicide for them and that they would be beaten at the ballot box for taking this stand. Yet both of these councillors went back to their electorate to find they had overwhelming support and backing from them leading to their re-elections by landslides in both cases.
When it comes to the councillors here on the Conservative side of the chamber, we to some extent expect their attitude to reflect their national leaders. But isn’t it interesting to hear this week that even David Cameron’s aunt has taken a stance against cuts by signing a petition launched to fight the closure of a service in her area. In fear of losing support for political support in their own back yards Cameron has found £300M emergency funding for cash strapped councils. Labour are claiming 83% of that money is going to Tory run councils. This begs the question to Labour, what could you win if you were willing to put up a fight?
Labour, surely we have a right to expect so much more from. We heard time and time again from some of the councillors sat here today how there is no mood in society to vote against cuts and that taking that position has no support. How interesting it was then to see the election of Jeremy Corbyn as leader of that party. His campaign was won with the same demands that prove those councillors wrong.
We in TUSC have been out all over the city with stalls asking residents what it is they want from their council. They overwhelmingly replied that they wanted public services to remain, stay public and be fully funded. We asked them if they would support the council if it voted against cuts and they overwhelmingly replied they would. We asked if they would support the council if it used reserves to pay for services and used the prudential borrowing powers available to them while mounting a city-wide campaign to demand proper funding is returned to the city from central government. They again overwhelmingly replied that they would.
These demands are not new and I know councillors here have heard these demands before. Because we have raised them consistently every year since the age of austerity forced upon us began. The arguments we have heard before about these demands not being a viable alternative are now found to be untrue. Today we have a council in Stoke that is committed to using its reserves to pay for services that would otherwise be lost without any hysterical claims that this is illegal.
Of course, that council that was once a Labour council but is now controlled by independent/conservative coalition, does not go far enough. They have no intention of using the time this move gives them to mount any kind of mass campaign to make the demand of a return of funding to that city.
We know from documents available from this council that there are £40M in reserves that could be used in such a way. More and more people are starting to understand how particularly vicious these cuts are when they realise how services already lost could have been saved by using a small percentage of those reserves.
I am here today to again put forward the alternative that exists but I want to be clear. What we are asking for is not for this council to refuse to make a budget or indeed set an illegal one. We are saying loud and clear that you do have a choice and the choice is to set a legal no cuts budget by using those reserves and using the time positively as I explained earlier.
I would like to encourage, beg and plead with any of you who can find a shred of humanity, a shred of decency to vote against these cuts and become a part of the fight back against these cuts. As Councillors Keith Morrell and Don Thomas have shown and they have told us, your residents will back you and we can fight together to stop the widespread ruination of our fair city. Too much has been lost already.”