Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Seven thoughts for Labour Councils

11. Don't forget we oppose the cuts!

Cuts in local government expenditure are caused by decisions of (Tory) Central Government. Everything we do or say should remind people of this. A vital part of what we do must be to mobilise public opposition to cuts (even where these are being implemented by Labour administrations). Labour Councils should be making clear that they do not want to implement Tory cuts. Therefore Labour inspired demonstrations against cuts will be demonstrations, most of all, against Tory cuts (even where they are being implemented by Labour administrations). Labour Councillors should be prepared to mobilise against all cuts, including those for which they may have voted.

2.    2.Not every cut has to be made – challenge the scale of the cuts

Labour Councillors (whether in opposition or in “power”) must recognise that Council officers have an agenda around “prudence” and a “balanced budget” and that the conclusions which they draw can be challenged. Each local authority has a level of reserves which reflects a political choice. The allocation of expenditure between revenue funding, capital funding, Housing Revenue Account (HRA) funding and grant funding also reflects political choices. Diligent Labour Councillors will not accept that their authority must make the particular level of cuts which they are told must be made.

3.    3 Nor does each cut have to be made – challenge particular cuts

Even given a particular “global” target for cuts in a particular authority it does not follow that each particular proposed cut must be made. Labour Councillors in office should engage Labour Party members in a decision-making process about where cuts should fall (which should encompass the full range of options including a referendum to increase the Council Tax). Even if Labour Councillors will not “take on” the Government by refusing to make cuts it does not follow that they must support each particular proposed cut.

4.    4. The Labour Party is supposed to lead the local community – so lead

The most important function of local Labour politicians is not that they should be prudent custodians of the resources of the local state, it is that they should be community leaders. Therefore Labour Party representatives should be at the head of each and every campaign against cuts in public services (even where those cuts are being proposed by Labour local authorities). Labour representatives should represent the interests of working class electors, whose interests are that cuts should not be made.

5.    5. Our strength is beyond the formal Party structures – let’s use it

The left (Corbyn-supporters) within the Party are strong because of our numbers within the rank and file, not because of the positions we hold in the formal structures of the Party. Whilst we must pay close attention to the formal structures (timetables for election etc.) we must also initiate activity outside the formal structures of the Party which can be expected to gain official support. For example, in many Constituency Labour Parties we need to call for demonstrations against local authority cuts ahead of irrevocable decisions by the local authorities (which may be Labour controlled) to make those cuts. Whilst official Labour Party bodies would not initiate such protests the majority of members will expect the Party to do this. We can therefore call for such protest in a way which supports and compels the Party also to protest.

6.    6. We stand for equality

It is the trade unions who generally hold the feet of the employer to the fire around the regrettable tendency for Councillors to believe assurances from senior officers about equality (and the TUPE Regulations). Consistent opponents of cuts in local public spending will welcome (for example) reductions in expenditure on the use of agency workers, without illusions in the consequences of their disappearance. Socialists in the Labour Party need to engage with and understand the detail of local authority budgets.

7.    7. We need to think globally as we act locally

Those of us who want to defend public services need to coordinate our campaigning. As well as supporting local campaigns we need to maximise our national impact. There should be a national as well as a local mobilisation against local government cuts. As well as local demonstrations we need a series of coordinated marches to London from every local area

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