Thursday 7th March 2013
Rooms 3 & 4 The Council House, Victoria
Square, Birmingham B1 1BB
Clive Heemskerk, Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition
Councillors have a choice – they can vote not to implement the cuts!
Is it true that councils really have ‘no option’ but to pass on the Con-Dems’ cuts? The Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) – an electoral alliance officially backed by the RMT transport workers’ union – doesn’t believe so.
TUSC says that when faced with government cuts to their funding, councils should refuse to implement them. It argues that the best way to mobilise the mass campaign that is necessary to roll back Con-Dem austerity would be for councils to set budgets that meet the needs of their local community and demand that the government makes up the shortfall. But in the first instance, to save jobs and services now while building such a campaign, TUSC would support councils using their reserves and prudential borrowing powers to avoid passing on the Con-Dem cuts.
Is this possible? Have councils got the power to borrow without government permission? What about the local government legislation that commits councillors to setting a ‘balanced budget’?
In fact councils still do have quite extensive powers. In 2008, for example, two socialist councillors presented a budget to Lewisham council showing how it could use its reserves and borrowing powers to avoid cuts and fund a £13m programme of ‘decent homes’ works. The other councillors didn’t like it.
They voted against. But they couldn’t rule out the alternative budget as ‘illegal’.
Councils face an even worse crisis than in 2008. But they can still resist. This month in Southampton two rebel councillors have presented a similar alternative budget there – again, using reserves and borrowing powers to avoid cuts this year and ‘buy time’ to build a mass campaign.
Clive Heemskerk, TUSC’s national election agent, who was involved in formulating budget alternatives in both these cases, will explain some of the issues involved and show that councillors do indeed have a choice – they can vote not to implement the cuts!
Jolyon Jones, from East Birmingham Against the Cuts, will introduce some of the cuts and developments in Social Care in Birmingham.
Spending on Children’s and Adults social care comprises a major part of the Council’s budget and
consequently is the subject of some of the largest identified cuts. £22m is to be cut from the Children and Young People’s budget and £17m from Adult and Communities services. There is the threat of further significant job losses in social care as well as significant reductions in some services.
Mental health services for young people experiencing distress are to be cut, with ££1.4m to be cut from the CAMH service and further cuts to Voluntary sector projects such as counselling services for young people who have been the subject to sexual abuse and violence.
Key issues for Children’s social care in the year ahead will be:
- Cuts to universal services for children including Children’s Centres.
- Realigning the Children and Young People’s budget to cut services for looked after children and
to fund early intervention for children on the edge of care. This involves the closure of Council Children’s Homes
- Running a ‘Payment by results’ pilot for the Government.
- Raising the eligibility criteria for young people to access to services
- Developing commissioning and use of private providers
In Adults social care large cuts were made to services in 2012-13 and these cuts have been carried over into next year’s budget. Future issues will be:
- Removing direct subsidies for services e.g. Meals on Wheels
- A power struggle with NHS over responsibility for funding services currently provided by the
Council e.g. intermediate care at Norman Power
- Squeezing the price of contracts to external Home care contractors and reducing the Home Care
- Cuts to services for Vulnerable adults at risk of homelessness e.g. Supporting People
- Continued marketisation of all directly provided services