Fighting to save Coventry’s last two play centres

Fighting to save Coventry’s last two play centres

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Campaigners outside Edgwick Play Centre

Parents and children who use Edgwick and Eagle St play centres took to the streets of Coventry on Saturday as part of their campaign to save the City’s last 2 play centres.

The centres face closure as part of the council’s latest cuts.

Speaking outside the council house, Nebiyu one of the children using Eagle Street play centre said “It’s wrong to close play centres. They are somewhere safe to go.”

One Nanny present confirmed that saying that her grandson “suffered bullying at school and the play centre was the only socialising he gets with kids his own age.”

Protest organiser Simon Evans says the campaign will go on. “The support from parents and kids has been marvellous and our local schools including St Elizabeth’s and our local police centre are determined to help us keep this open, and have spoken out with their concerns if they are to be closed.”

Simon’s daughter Kimberly said: “Most of these kids, like me, have made brilliant friends and has helped with socialisation. It’s so sad.”

The play centre provides a service 6 days a week  (3 to 5.30, 10 to 2.30 Saturdays) and the site is used to run a youth club on 3 evenings. George Sands of UNISON says it will mean the loss of more female, part-time jobs. He believes the council plan to hand the building over to a private firm for an under 2’s nursery. “But why can’t both services use the facility?”

Jane Nellist of the NUT, the teachers union, and secretary of Coventry Trades Union Council said that “play is central to children’s development and there should be many more play centres, not none! It cannot be right that in Coventry we will have 2 giant universities and no play centres.” Jane attacked government cuts pointing out that Britain is a rich country but that if play centres were being closed then the money is in the wrong hands.

We urge all readers to support the play centre campaigners.

Simon can be reached at simon_evansuk@yahoo.co.uk

Austerity: how many more protests like this do we have to witness outside the council house?

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Outside the Council House

The Socialist Party supported and will continue to support the protest of the play centre campaigners and believes it is sad that year after year we have seen countless groups of Coventry people campaigning to save services. From schools, disabled workshops, youth clubs, play centres, swimming baths and so many more. When will this be enough for local councils to say enough is enough?

Dave Nellist warmed to this theme. He said it was shameful that we had to see “Kids and parents defending play centres outside the council house and that not one councillor was here. What are councillors there for if not to defend our city and it’s people’s services?”

He added that “…the Council now has £84 million in reserves, and what would it cost to keep these play centres open? £100,000?”

They could be kept open, he argued, while a campaign was built to fight to win back some of the money that the government has stolen from our city.

In the parents own words…  Why a play centre is so important

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Save our play centres!

Simon Evans: “My children Kimberly, aged 11 and Rhian, aged 7 will be affected by the closure. Kimberly is now at secondary school and her favourite thing to do is to play football, which if not for the play centre, she would rarely be able to do this as she feels unable to join the boys at her school to play, while her girl friends there do not play.

Rhian has built up a lot of confidence since she started going to the play centre. When she first went she would not speak to more than a few children. Now she speaks to several children there, and even joins in with games. I am very concerned with the safety of the park if the play centre closes, as the staff there report any suspicious activity that they witness to the local police.”

Lucy O’Donoghue’s child Saskia goes to the play centre states: “The closure of the play centre will have a very big negative impact on our family. I am a single mum with no transport and limited resources, my daughter is an only child and the play centre provide a safe positive, multicultural, tolerant environment for her to play, trips to go on.”

Lisa Achrar whose children Adriam and Mishara go to the play centre says: “It will mean I would be unable to work to provide for my family”.

Salma Begum, whose child Muhammed goes there says: “There will be nowhere to go. If parents need to go to work they will know that children are safe without having to worry.”

Roxanne Richmond’s whose child Olivia goes there says: “The play centre has a huge impact on Olivia’s social skills and enables her to mix with the children from all sorts of backgrounds and ethnic groups; This enables her to become more confident and has brought her lots of new social skills.”

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Rally to save Edgwick Play Centre

Rally to save Edgwick Play Centre

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Users of Edgwick Play Centre in Foleshill have organised protests on Saturday 30th January against its proposed closure. The centre is used by many local residents, and if closed would be the second local leisure centre to be closed in the area in recent years, after Livingstone Baths was shut by the council.

Lucy O’Donughue, whose daughter Saskia uses the play centre, said “The closure of the play centre will have a very big negative effect/impact on our family. I am a single mum with no transport and limited resources, my daughter is an only child and [the] play centre provides a safe positive, multicultural, tolerant environment for her to play.”

Simon Evans has two children, Kimberly and Rhian, who use the centre regularly. He says “Kimberly’s favourite thing to do is play football, which if not for the play centre she would rarely be able to do.” Kimberly said “Most of these kids like me, have made brilliant friends and [the play centre] has helped with socialisation. It’s so sad.”

Edgwick Play Centre is one of the many services that faces closure by the council. Other services under threat include many libraries, community centres and youth centres. Council workers are also facing job losses and some services may end up being run by volunteers rather than council staff. We think councillors have a choice not to make these cuts – read more about it here.

The protests are on Saturday 30th January, the first is outside Edgwick Play Centre at 12 midday and the second is outside the council house at 2pm. Come along and protest against cuts and closures!

Can Coventry councillors fight the cuts?

Can Coventry councillors fight the cuts?

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Protest against library closures

Coventry City Council is due to set its annual budget towards the end of February which will mean plans to slash over 1000 jobs, less access to vital services such as libraries, closure of play centres and much more. When questioned about their decisions, local Councillors respond with ‘nothing can be done’, ‘we have no choice’, ‘commissioners will be sent to make even worse cuts’ and ‘if we vote against cuts will be surcharged as the Liverpool councillors were in the past’.

The Socialist Party has consistently campaigned for Labour councils to fight back against cuts by setting no-cuts budgets and building campaigns throughout communities and trade unions to demand that the Government returns the money they have cut from council budgets. This strategy was used by Liverpool and Lambeth council in the 1980s and in following it they were able to secure increased funding and use it to build homes and services and create jobs.

A number of councillors and activists have raised concerns, however, that these budgets would be illegal and that the Tories would simply bring in commissioners to set a cuts budget. We understand these concerns, but no-cuts budgets do not have to be illegal. The objections to fighting the cuts from the Labour Councillors do not reflect the desire of the supporters of Jeremy Corbyn for opposition to austerity, and importantly they do not actually reflect the legal position.

Councillors in Hull, Leicester and Southampton, supported by TUSC, have put forward budgets that do not include cuts and were fully legal. In Coventry the council has over £72million in reserves – these could be used to set a budget that supports the people of Coventry, giving the council time to campaign with local trade unions and the community for the reinstatement of funds that have been stolen from our city by the Tories. The below article by TUSC national election agent Clive Heemskerk goes into more detail on these issues.

We encourage discussions on these issues between local Councillors, trade union activists and anti-cuts campaigners.

No retreat on resisting Council cuts

“A week before Christmas, on the last day of parliamentary business in 2015, the Communities and Local Government Secretary Greg Clark announced the 2016-17 local finance settlement, listing the exact amount of national funding each council will receive for the next financial year.

This filled out the details, at least for the coming year, of George Osborne’s plan revealed in the November comprehensive spending review for a further four years of draconian austerity for local public services.

Even the Tory chair of the Local Government Association, Lord Porter, had denounced Osborne’s attack. “If councils stopped filling in potholes, maintaining parks, closed all children’s centres, libraries, museums, leisure centres and turned off every street light”, he complained, they will still “not have saved enough money to plug the financial black hole they face by 2020”.

Labour’s shadow local government secretary Jon Trickett agreed the situation was “bleak” for councils and “is only set to get worse”.

So it was doubly disappointing for those who hoped Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour leadership victory opened up a new opportunity to resist austerity that, on the same day as the local finance settlement was announced, Corbyn issued a joint letter with Trickett and the shadow chancellor John McDonnell that, whatever its intentions were, will have the effect of undermining the anti-cuts struggle in the months ahead.

Interpretation of letter

The letter, sent to the leaders of council Labour groups, did not instruct councillors to respond to the Tories’ cuts in government funding by setting budgets in February and March to further slash local jobs and services. But that was how it was eagerly interpreted by the capitalist media, with a Guardian strapline proclaiming: “Re-run of 1980s defiance over cuts is ruled out”.

Labour councillors across the country followed suit, using the letter to say that their approach of passing on the Tory cuts had been endorsed by Jeremy and John.

One graphic example was Manchester, a city where all 96 councillors are Labour. Local groups of the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC), which the Socialist Party plays a leading role in, have been sending letters to Labour councillors since Jeremy Corbyn’s victory asking for a discussion on how council cuts could now be resisted.

The Manchester TUSC letter was sent in October but it was only after the Labour group leader Richard Leese had received the circular from Jeremy Corbyn that he replied, quoting selected paragraphs from it. There are no Tories on Manchester council but Labour councillors will blame them nonetheless for the cuts they will vote through, 96 to nil!

Unfortunately, every service cut, bedroom tax eviction made or worker sacked by a Labour-controlled council will now be justified by councillors referring to the Corbyn and McDonnell letter.

This has been made possible because the letter misleadingly conflates the issue of not setting a budget at all – which would be open to immediate legal challenge – with the legal requirement that councillors have to set a ‘balanced budget’.

Legal budgets

Complying with Tory laws is not the highest duty. Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell are on record, rightly, as backing workers prepared to defy the anti-union laws.

The 1921 Poplar councillors fought under the banner, ‘It’s better to break the law than break the poor,’ echoed by the Liverpool and Lambeth councillors in the 1980s. But in fact a no-cuts budget could meet the legal requirement to be ‘balanced’.

This was the case with the alternative budgets that have been presented by TUSC-supporting councillors in Southampton, Hull and Leicester, and the example they were based on, the budget moved by the two Lewisham Socialist Party councillors, Ian Page and Chris Flood, in 2008.

The details differed but the budgets were ‘balanced’ by drawing on the councils’ reserves, using the borrowing powers that councils have, and ‘creative accountancy’. In fact they were models of the “innovative ways of making progress” that councils still have the powers to implement and which are praised in the Corbyn and McDonnell letter.

In each case they were legal budgets, unorthodox and not recommended by the councils’ Chief Finance Officers, but budgets which could have been passed if the majority of Labour councillors had found the will to fight the cuts.

But they would only have bought time for the individual council, preventing cuts for a year or two. They could only ever be a first step in a national campaign to force the government to properly fund local public services. The possibility for that is what is being undermined by Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell’s letter, unless they clarify their position to make it clear they still oppose Labour councils sacking workers and cutting services.

Potential power of councils

A combined campaign of Labour councils refusing to implement the cuts could defeat the government. If the total gross spending of the 100-plus Labour-controlled councils in Britain was counted as a ‘gross domestic product’ (GDP), they would be the eighteenth biggest country in the EU! How can it be credibly argued that they ‘have no power’ to resist the Tories?

George Osborne was forced to retreat after a rebellion in the House of Lords, making him claim he had found an extra £27 billion in the public finances to enable him, among other things, to drop his proposed cuts to tax credits. The Lords were stretching their ‘legal powers’ to overturn a government finance measure. Arguably, in fact, more so than Labour councils would be stretching their powers if they ‘interpreted’ those they do have in order not to make the cuts.

The issue for Labour councillors, which is what Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell should be stressing, is one of political choice, a determination not to carry out the capitalists’ demands for austerity.

But over 90% of Labour councillors did not support Jeremy Corbyn for leader. In his latest appeal for a ‘moderate fightback’ the New Labour architect Peter Mandelson identified “Labour’s legions in local government [as] a bigger force for sense in the party than at any time in the recent past”. They are the bulwark of the counter-revolution against Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership.

What is needed is the type of campaign that was mobilised to secure Jeremy Corbyn’s victory, this time to take on the organised forces in the Labour Party defending the capitalist establishment, not seeking ‘unity’ around their pro-austerity agenda.

Party members and supporters were polled over whether or not Labour should support air strikes on Syria. Why should there not be another poll of party members – and trade unionists and local council service users facing cuts – to ask if they want to see Labour councillors implementing the cuts or resisting them?

The Socialist Party is arguing within TUSC for local groups to systematically take up the approach to Labour councillors in the run up to the council budget-making meetings in February and March to see if they are prepared to fight the cuts, as some will be. But we also fully support the position adopted by the TUSC conference in September that any politician who votes for cuts cannot expect to have a free run at the ballot box, “no matter what party label they wear”. There can be no compromise on cuts.

What is the legal position?

Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell’s letter says: “councils must set a balanced budget under the Local Government Act 1992. If this does not happen… then the council’s Section 151 Officer is required to issue the council with a notice under Section 114 of the 1988 Local Government Act. Councillors are then required to take all the necessary actions in order to bring the budget back into balance.

“Failing to do so can lead to complaints against councillors under the Code of Conduct, judicial review of the council and, most significantly, government intervention by the Secretary of State”.

This is an accurate summary of the legal position. But even just from a legal viewpoint it actually shows that the Tories do not have the draconian powers they are usually portrayed as having by Labour councillors seeking to excuse their refusal to fight.

Where, for example, is the power of surcharge, which timorous Labour councillors still raise and which actually was inflicted on the Liverpool and Lambeth councillors in the 1980s? As TUSC has consistently explained, it was abolished in the 2000 Local Government Act.

And equally there is no prospect of imprisonment, as the Poplar councillors were faced with in 1921. Instead today’s rebels would have to confront… the councillors’ code of conduct!

And even that sanction is no longer as potent as it was. Breaches of the code of conduct used to be dealt with under the Standards Board regime, which could lead to a councillor being disqualified from office for a maximum of five years. But the Standards Board was abolished by the Con-Dem’s 2011 Localism Act, in a cost-cutting purge of ‘quangos’. Now a complaint would have to be considered by the council itself “in any way the authority sees fit” – hardly a fearsome block to a Labour council committed to resisting the cuts.

The purge of quangos also saw the end of the Audit Commission, the body that had previously appointed District Auditors with the power to seek a judicial review of council budgets. Councils are now moving to a position similar to NHS Trusts who appoint their own auditor.

Significantly, despite almost two-thirds of English NHS Trusts predicting that they will end this financial year in deficit, the accountancy companies seeking to retain their audit contracts have issued no ‘public interest reports’ against them.

And lastly, there is the spectre of “government intervention by the Secretary of State,” with the reserve powers to appoint commissioners to take over particular council functions. These were used most recently, in February last year, after a report found Rotherham council to be ‘not fit to handle child sexual exploitation’.

Winning public support for commissioners to intervene in the Rotherham scandal is one thing. But deploying commissioners to take over Labour councils, backed by the Leader of the Opposition and mobilising popular support in a national campaign against the cuts, is another matter entirely.

No Labour councillor can credibly say ‘we have no choice’ but to implement the cuts. They do.

  • Read a full account of the record of Lewisham’s two Socialist Party councillors, Ian Page and Chris Flood, including the 2008 alternative budget,
  • Original article click here

Council workers – reject the pay offer

Council workers – reject the pay offer

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Reject!

By a council worker in Coventry

Local government unions have just started consulting hundreds of thousands of members who work in Councils across the country over the latest pay award.

Paltry offer – sick pay and annual leave not protected

The headline is that the employers are offering a paltry 2 per cent pay deal over two years (1 per cent per year to cover 2016 – 2018). Significantly they have also refused to protect our current sick pay and annual leave.

We are getting worse and worse off. A Midlands TUC report released this week shows that wages in the West Midlands are on average £38 less in real terms compared to 2008. Our day to day experience shows that we are under more pressure at work – being subjected to sometimes oppressive performance management regimes, unrealistic expectations where management want us to provide the same vital service but with far less staff, all of which leads to more and more stress.

The position of UNISON, UNITE and GMB

UNISON and UNITE are both recommending that the offer is rejected and this is welcome. The GMB have made no recommendation. Why not? Surely it is either a good offer or bad offer? This is all the more strange since the GMB congress in 2014 voted to campaign for a £10 per hour minimum wage. This offer does not provide for that so it makes no sense to not recommend rejection. GMB members who want to see a fightback over pay should be asking these questions.

How can we win our pay award?

We need a massive rejection of the pay offer in this consultation. We need to tell the employers we mean business, and also the leaderships of our unions that we need to resist.

In a welcome development, the UNISON ballot paper has three options for those choosing to reject. They are – all out strike action, selective strike action and action short of strike action. Members can mark up to 3 of these options and we would encourage all 3 to be ticked.

What kind of action?

Some activists will see selective action as a way of winning our campaign – of bringing out groups of workers who in their eyes have more clout to really hit home. However selective action has certain dangers. It should not be seen as a panacea, as a short cut to winning our just demands. There is a danger that bringing out small groups of workers can mean the mass of members are bystanders and gives the impression that campaigns can be won by proxy.

This is being looked to (in many ways, understandably) by some activists due to the previous campaigns from the local government unions, particularly on pay and pensions (2014 and 2011 being the latest), where there have been highly successful and well supported days of strike action involving huge numbers of members. The union leadership has then sold us short – however the problem wasn’t the mass strike action which was highly successful but the fact that the leadership had little strategy and no plan of action, ultimately selling us short.

Selective action (or regional action) can be a useful auxiliary to mass national action but it is no substitute for it, likewise action short of strike action. However, as part of an overall strategy all three options should be supported in the ballot, with selective action and action short of a strike used to back up a programme of all out action.

What is at stake?

We need to not only reject this offer but to have a plan of how we fight for pay justice and also the wider austerity agenda. Much is at stake, yes our pay but also our jobs, terms and conditions and indeed the future of public services. The employer certainly recognises this – every time the unions have made way without a fight or have squandered powerful positions as in the disputes over pensions in 2011 and pay in 2014, the bosses in central and local government have been emboldened.

We need to challenge austerity strongly at a national and local level. We need to rebuild our trade unions recruiting more shop stewards and strengthening basic union organisation on the shopfloor. With Britain being the 6th richest country in the world and it being revealed that the 62 richest people in the world have as much wealth as half of the world’s population, we know the money is there for decent pay. The trouble is the system. We need to fight for socialism. Socialist Party members in the council trade unions are fighting for a programme of action and change – join us!

Lower Stoke by election – Socialist Party statement

Lower Stoke by election – Socialist Party statement

Coventry Socialist Party has decided not to propose nomination of a TUSC candidate in the forthcoming Lower Stoke by-election.

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Dave Nellist with Lower Stoke Socialist Party campaigner Rob McArdle

Former Coventry councillor Dave Nellist, explained today:

“Socialists in Coventry remain resolutely opposed to the cuts the Labour Council are continuing to pass on.  Such as the £3 million cut to Council Tax support for the city’s poorest.

We now know that over 1400 council jobs have been cut in the last five years, and the council plans to cut 1000 more.  That’s 2,500 young people in Coventry denied the chance of a decent job.  And Councillor Damian Gannon, Cabinet Member for Finance, has said the authority is ‘looking at altering employment terms such as holiday and sickness pay’ of those who remain.

It’s no defence for Labour to say they are responding to national Tory cuts – locally, Labour has doubled its reserves in the last four years from £41m to £84m; it could use a proportion of that to delay cuts whilst launching a campaign to force the government to restore proper funding to the city.

These are the arguments we will continue to put.  But we are conscious that this is the first local by-election since Jeremy Corbyn was elected as the new leader of the Labour Party.

Jeremy Corbyn says the Labour Party will be anti-austerity and we want to work with members of Labour, especially new members, who support that.

Unfortunately TUSC hasn’t yet had the opportunity to sit down with Jeremy to discuss what he can do to get Labour councillors, in Coventry and elsewhere, to refuse to implement Tory cuts.

Or to find out what he thinks council service users, trade unionists, and community campaigners should do in elections if all the likely candidates on the ballot paper are going to carry out the cuts.

So, on this occasion, the Socialist Party has agreed not to stand a candidate, so that there is no artificial obstacle to having that discussion with Jeremy and his supporters.

But time is short. Standing aside in a council by-election is one thing. But in May there will be over 2000 councillors up for election, including 18 seats in Coventry.

We want to have a serious discussion with those in Labour who are serious about fighting the cuts. But the Socialist Party is also clear that any politician who votes for cuts cannot expect to have a free run at the ballot box, no matter what party label they wear.”

 

7 years ago today – Dave Nellist and Coventry Socialists join 5,000 strong protest against attacks on the people of Gaza

7 years ago today – Dave Nellist and Coventry Socialists join 5,000 strong protest against attacks on the people of Gaza

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Mass protest in Birmingham

17th January in 2009 saw around 5,000 people protest in Birmingham against a war that claimed many lives.

An editorial statement from The Socialist newspaper explained

`One thousand two hundred and fifty confirmed dead, with the numbers still rising as bodies are dug out of the rubble. Around one third of the dead are children. More than 4,000 homes destroyed and over 17,000 damaged, as well as 25 schools and hospitals lying in ruins. Half a million people without water. More than 5,000 injured, many having lost limbs or suffering from severe burns as a result of phosphorus bombs. This is what the Israeli government calls ‘achieving its aims’.

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Dave Nellist addresses the protest. Salma Yaqoob chaired the rally

Members of Coventry Socialist Party joined the huge protest in Birmingham, with Dave Nellist addressing the rally in Victoria Square. Dave received huge cheers from the crowd calling for an end to the siege of Gaza, the breaking of the blockade and an end to the Israeli occupation.

7 years on and the oppression of the Palestinians continues with capitalism offering no prospect of peace and security for ordinary people across the Middle East.

Recent escalations show that the current system offers no way forward in the Middle East for the poor and oppressed, and why we need to fight for socialism.

For recent analysis of the current situation from the members of Socialist Struggle in Israel-Palestine please click here

To read our resources section on the situation click here

If you would like to discuss the work of Socialists in the Middle East, or would like to be emailed a recent bulletin produced by Coventry Socialist Party detailing the work of Socialist Struggle and the programme they are putting forward,  send your details to coventrysocialistparty@gmail.com or here

 

 

“I got three hours’ sleep out in the open on a roundabout. It was well worth it to support these brave workers.” Four years on – remembering Rob Windsor

“I got three hours’ sleep out in the open on a roundabout. It was well worth it to support these brave workers.”

Four years on – remembering Rob Windsor

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Comrade Rob Windsor

Today marks four years since the passing of Socialist Party member Rob Windsor.

Rob, who died in 2012, was a well known stalwart of Militant and the Socialist Party playing a leading role in innumerable campaigns over the years, not least the monumental anti-Poll Tax campaign which helped to organise millions of people to defeat the tax and Thatcher.

He was also an elected Socialist Party Councillor in St Michael’s ward in Coventry, a position he used with fellow Socialist Councillors Dave Nellist and Karen McKay to further the interests of ordinary people in Coventry and further afield.

Rob was an incredible Socialist, Marxist and human being, he continues to be sorely missed but at the same time he will inspire us all to continue to fight for socialism and against this rotten capitalist system.

As part of the fourth anniversary since his death, we reproduce an article from the Coventry Telegraph. It is a report of Rob visiting the occupation of Vestas workers on the Isle of Wight in 2009. Rob made the journey down there to support the workers in their struggle, donating money from his Councillor’s expenses and as the report says, sleeping on a roundabout!

Rob will continue to be missed by many people, but we will continue the struggle that he dedicated his life to. Click here to join us!

Article by Les Reid – original can be viewed here

Coventry councillor sleeps on roundabout to support protesters

A COVENTRY councillor visited the Isle of Wight to support workers occupying a wind turbine factory in protest at 600 job losses – and slept on a roundabout.

Socialist councillor Rob Windsor (St Michael’s ward) travelled to Newport at the weekend to the factory owned by the Dutch Company Vestas.

Despite a reported increase in orders, the company still wants to close it. The occupation by its employees has hit the national headlines.

Coun Windsor spent Saturday night at a camp of trades unionists and climate change activists and donated £50 of his council pay to the cause.

He said: “The management caved in a bit and allowed the 25 lads their first hot meal in a week on Saturday.

“I got three hours’ sleep out in the open on a roundabout. It was well worth it to support these brave workers.”

He added: “The government talk the talk about green energy but are not prepared to walk the walk when it comes to looking after the jobs of those who build the means to make it.

“The company say it’s not just a case of subsidy, but this shouldn’t be about subsidy. If the government is prepared to nationalise banks it should nationalise this factory tomorrow.”

The company was yesterday expected to go to court to evict the occupiers, but Coun Windsor says the occupation is likely to continue.

Coun Windsor urged people to send messages of support to savevestas@gmail.com.