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Local authorities in England are sitting on almost £22 billion of financial reserves, £5 billion more than the year before, the Sunday Times reports. Councils have been accused of choosing to raise council tax in order to build reserves rather than maintain services.
The article accepts that government grants have been drastically reduced since 2010, but suggests that council cuts were mainly a result of bad management.
However, last year the Institute for Fiscal Studies said the current system was unsustainable, particularly for councils in the north and urban areas, which have been hit hardest by the cuts. It also said the government should be honest that these councils will not be able to provide many of the services people expect.
According to the Centre for Cities, in Liverpool Council, where I work, spending is down by £816 for every person in the city compared to 2010. The workforce has been reduced from 12,000 in 2010 to fewer than 5,000 today.
The cuts have been devastating for the most vulnerable people in the city.
When the director of social services, Samir Kalakeche, retired in 2017, he warned in an interview with the Guardian that social services would not exist in Liverpool by 2019 if changes weren't made.
Changes have been made, but only so budgets can be spread extremely thinly. The most vulnerable people now receive wholly inadequate care packages, while those classed as needing moderate care go without help or must find the money to pay.
In 2018, the National Audit Office reported that some councils were at breaking point and were using reserves to run day-to-day services, and that reserves would be exhausted by 2021 at that rate. In fact, Northamptonshire County Council declared itself bankrupt in 2017 and was forced to sell its HQ to fund day-to-day services.
Labour councils like Liverpool are implementing Tory cuts, causing enormous pain and suffering.
Labour figures like our own council leader Joe Anderson argue it would be irresponsible to set a no-cuts budget. The government and its wealthy backers would agree, but Anderson should be responsible for the care of the residents and workers of the city. Clearly they are not his priority.
Labour councils have left people in desperation year after year, hoping a Labour government will solve their problems, but how long must we wait? And will Labour, while it's overrun with Blairites, be able to end austerity?
Labour councils should not increase council tax or make cuts to compensate for Tory austerity. Nor should they simply provide a bare minimum of day-to-day services.
Instead they should use reserves and borrowing powers to restore services, build new council homes and create jobs. Just like in Liverpool, where the Labour council led by the Militant (now the Socialist Party) conducted such a campaign between 1983 and 1987, local people would respond.
They would see and feel the benefit of the councillors' actions. And the working class could be galvanised in support, ready to rise up, just like in Liverpool, where mass rallies of tens of thousands of people could be called upon to march on the town hall.
If just a few Labour councils were willing to follow the Liverpool example, this weak and divided Tory government would be brought to its knees.
Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell should stop retreating from the Blairite challenge and provide bold leadership, encouraging councillors to take this action.
If they fail to provide a clear alternative to Tory austerity, and people are unable to see the difference between them and the Blairites, they will squander their chance of reclaiming the Labour Party and transforming society along socialist lines.
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Council elections (56)
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Article dated 19 June 2019
The Socialist, weekly newspaper of the Socialist Party
Lessons from history
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