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One primary school in Southampton has stood up and refused to accept any more cuts. A united campaign of staff, parents and governors - including strike action - has resulted in Southampton's Labour council agreeing to guarantee no cuts to the school, which is running a deficit of £850,000 a year - for two years.
This tremendous battle by one primary school, resulting in victory, gives a glimpse of what is possible across the country. It should not have taken strike action to force Southampton Labour council, which has around £100 million in useable reserves, to stop the cuts at Valentine school. But now that the possibilities have been shown, every Labour council in the country should follow the same road.
Across England, 91% of schools are facing funding cuts. Our children's education is being damaged by Tory austerity, but Labour councils could prevent the cuts to schools in their areas by allowing them to run legal licensed deficits. Instead, up and down the country, Labour councils continue to enforce Tory cuts.
Nor do the lessons of Valentine school apply only to education. Local authority services have been cut to the bone and beyond. In the five years from 2010 more than half a million council workers lost their jobs.
As the national housing crisis escalates, councils are increasingly unable to provide even a sticking plaster on the gaping wound of homelessness. Real-terms spending on council housing services has been slashed by 48% over the last decade.
In 2017, 600 people died sleeping rough in England and Wales, as the number of street sleepers rockets. Far more are 'hidden homeless', sofa-surfing and sleeping on friends and families floors.
One in six women's refuges have closed, leading to 1,000 women and children fleeing domestic abuse being turned away in just six months last year.
Even statutory services, which councils are legally required to provide, have not escaped the axe. Adult social care spending has been cut by 10%, meaning that a record one in seven older people now have care needs that are not being met.
The Labour councils implementing these brutal cuts have laid the blame at the feet of the Tory government. It is absolutely true that the Tory government has cynically devolved the responsibility for carrying out cuts to local authorities, slashing the money councils receive from central government.
In doing this, the Tories hope to make Labour carry the odium of wielding the axe. The crime of Labour councils up and down the country is in obeying Tory orders instead of standing up and fighting for their local communities, refusing to implement any more cuts.
Imagine if Labour councils had shown a tenth of the courage of the staff and parents at Valentine's primary school. The 125 Labour-led councils in Scotland, England and Wales have combined budgets of almost £80 billion, giving them potential to act as a serious 'counter-power' to this incredibly weak Tory minority government.
They have a combined £9.3 billion in their general combined reserves. They could take a stand tomorrow and refuse to implement one more cut, using their reserves and borrowing powers to fund services until they were reimbursed by a Jeremy Corbyn-led Labour government.
This act alone would transform the political situation in Britain, demonstrating to workers who are angry and disillusioned with all the major parties that Labour was serious about fighting in their interests. The determination of Valentine school would be matched by millions of workers and service users who would be prepared to take a stand to stop cuts if a lead was given. A Labour landslide victory could then be posed.
Unfortunately, however, the big majority of Labour councillors have a record of supporting austerity, not fighting it. They are on the pro-capitalist wing of the Labour Party that wants to see a return to the Blairite policies of New Labour.
Up until now Jeremy Corbyn and the shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, have not made a clear call for Labour councils to stop implementing cuts, and for pro-cuts councillors to stand aside. It is extremely overdue that they do so.
This should be combined with John McDonnell pledging that all councils who use reserves in order to stop cuts and austerity will have them replaced by an incoming Labour government. A continued failure to take a clear stand on this vital issue will inevitably lead to doubts that Labour is serious about fighting austerity. How can it be otherwise when workers living in Labour local authorities are suffering it at their hands?
The Socialist Party is standing candidates in these local elections against some of the worst Blairite cutters as part of our ongoing campaign for a socialist alternative and for a fighting programme to stop the cuts.
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Article dated 1 May 2019
The Socialist, weekly newspaper of the Socialist Party
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