Two of our activists traveled up to represent Birmingham, as Albert Bore was at the conference and gave a speech there. The day began with a demonstration outside the conference centre being used for the summit, before the cold and snow gave rise to the idea that perhaps we should find somewhere inside, and so after grabbing some food, around 15 people headed to Liverpool Council House and occupied the council chambers, with Mayor Joe Anderson eventually coming to speak to them about the cuts he is going to make to Liverpool’s services, which are similar to the size of Birmingham’s cuts – around 50% of the budget gone by 2017/18. Whilst in the chamber, documents were found that seem to show that during a time of national crisis – the worst recession and recovery since the 1890s – Liverpool are increased their reserves by £40m last year.
Albert Bores speech is available here and looks to be an interesting excercise in talking the talk. His tone and words have changed, under pressure from inside and outside the Labour party, and he now comes close to outright condemning the cuts, rather than just shrugging his shoulders and wielding the scissors:
That message is a simple one: we all know that there is a crisis with our public finances. But that crisis was NOT caused by the people of our cities and they should NOT be the ones who shoulder the main burden of paying for it!
Of course, we would argue that we should not be shouldering any of the burden of paying for the mess caused by the bankers who were allowed to speculate with our money, taking all the profits and none of the risk, without many if any taxpayers being aware of what risks we were exposed to. The ponzi schemes of finance capitalism came crashing down, and by bailing out the banks rather than the people, governments have chosen to make us bear all the burden, whilst bankers continue to laugh all the way to the banks that were saved and may now be owned by us, with huge bonus pots, like the £8.3bn that Goldman Sachs will pay out.
But this Government’s approach to cuts is not just morally wrong and unfair. It is also not working.
Because of the lack of growth in the economy there is less tax revenue than expected and more spending on welfare so the deficit is not coming down despite the cuts.
And the cuts themselves are slowing growth, leading to a downward spiral from which it is difficult to escape.
This is more like it – arguing against the logic of austerity itself, which is unravelling now as the deficit is rising. Albert doesn’t go so far as to call for an alternative economic strategy, perhaps because the national Labour party support austerity, nor does he mention the £25bn avoided in tax every year by large multinationals and very wealthy individuals. He doesn’t argue that we should be investing in our economy, tackling problems such as housing shortages, high rents and housing benefit payments or climate change and energy depletion, whilst creating jobs and growth, thereby increasing taxes and reducing benefit payments, leading the deficit to be closed.
However, other bits of the speech reveal the reality of this talk – that Albert is not yet ready to walk the walk. Already noted is the acceptance that we who did not cause the crisis should bear at least some of the burden of paying for it, and this part of the speech shows an interesting bit of cognitive dissonance
Iain Duncan Smith and George Osborne say it would not be fair if public sector and many private sector workers have their pay rise capped at one per cent whilst benefit recipients receive a bigger increase.
They are trying to create a false divide. The majority of those receiving benefits are also workers.
But let’s just look at the impact on someone who IS seeking work. If someone on an average wage gets a one per cent rise that’s about £5 per week. For someone on £100,000 it is £20 per week.
But for someone on Job Seekers Allowance it is a mere 71 pence per week.
With food and fuel prices increasing at way above the general inflation rate, those on the lowest incomes will always find it hardest to cope with any given percentage cap.
Now firstly, Albert is to be applauded for pointing out the false divide that is trying to be created, and not just because many people who claim also work, but because the effect on those who don’t work is so severe. So he rightly castigates the coalition for the capped 1% rise which is far below food and fuel inflation. The logical flipside to this is that Albert would support rises at at least the rate of inflation, which is currently around 2.7%. If benefits rose at 2.7% instead of 1%, this would mean that someone on the £71 week JSA rate (which remember is only for over 25s, it’s £56.25 if you’re 18-15) would get a rise of around £2 instead of 71 pence.
But what Albert gives with one hand, he takes with the other, imposing Pickles Poll Tax onto Birmingham, charging 20% to unemployed and some disabled people. At an average cost of £5/week, this new expense will have as much, if not more of an impact on claimants budgets than the real terms cuts. Put together of course, and along with welfare reforms, this all spells disaster for many of Birmingham’s poorest residents.
Whilst this speech marks a step up for Albert, it is clear that he still accepts the idea that there can be fair cuts, and of course he will be presiding over £110m of cuts in Birmingham this year. We say that there is no such thing as a fair cut, if the Labour campaign manages to get a better deal for Birmingham, that deal will still be bad. Any cut that is stopped simply means another cut happening somewhere else. There are only two ways in which this can change – if the disastrous austerity experiment is abandoned at national level, or if local councils stand up and defy the government, creating serious points of resistance around the country and demanding the only truly fair deal for our cities – investment in our economies for jobs and growth building things we know we need in order to transition to a zero-carbon economy.
Help us to increase the pressure – demonstrations are planned on the 4th and 26th February with planning meetings for anyone who wants to be more involved. The bigger these demonstrations are, the more pressure that puts on our council. Similar demonstrations will be happening around the UK as councils cut budgets and this creates a pressure on national as well as local governments. As was said in the meeting last week, it’s time to shut the city down.