Successful day of campaigning for Save Coventry Libraries

Successful day of campaigning for Save Coventry Libraries

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Outside Coundon Library – photo by Tara Rutledge

Saturday saw a successful day of action for the Save Coventry Libraries campaign. The “Big Library Sell Off Tour” visited the five libraries that Coventry City Council are planning to close. The Council say that unless volunteers/community groups come forward to run these vital public facilities then they will have no choice but to close them. Campaigners categorically reject this false choice put forward by the Labour Council – particularly when they have £84 million in reserves, and have increased these reserves. In fact they have doubled over the last 5 years!

The Socialist Party asks why don’t councillors use some of the reserves to offset these cuts and work with the people of Coventry to mount a campaign to force the Tory government to properly fund essential local services?

Labour should be opposing these cuts here in Coventry – not voting them through in the Council Chamber. Jeremy Corbyn opposes austerity but the majority of local Labour cllrs spend more time fighting him than they do the Tories!

The campaign visited the following libraries – Coundon, Earlsdon, Finham, Cheylesmore and Caludon Castle.

At each of the five libraries library users were angry and upset that their library could close. We collected many more signatures for our petition and handed out nearly a 1000 leaflets encouraging people to get involved in the campaign. It sent a clear message to Coventry City Council – keep all the libraries council run and fully staffed, with no job losses!

To see more pictures from the “Big Library Sell Off Tour” and to get more information about the campaign visit the Facebook page of Save Coventry Libraries

Coventry Labour MP Fletcher joins anti-Corbyn coup

Coventry Labour MP Fletcher joins anti-Corbyn coup

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Colleen Fletcher MP

Colleen Fletcher, Labour MP for Coventry North East, resigned from her secretarial position today as part of the attempted coup against Jeremy Corbyn. Fletcher, who was Parliamentary Private Secretary (PPS) to Kerry McCarthy MP, shadow secretary of state for environment, food and rural affairs, has also called for Jeremy to resign as Labour leader.

Fletcher’s resignation will have come as a shock to many, not because she was seen as a Corbyn supporter but because they did not realise she had a PPS position to resign from. Despite this, she has resigned in an attempt by the right-wing of the Parliamentary Labour Party to force Jeremy to resign as Labour leader. Like many MPs she is completely out of touch with the daily struggles of the ordinary working people she claims to represent. When heroic junior doctors went on strike in Coventry, with a picket line at Walsgrave Hospital in the heart of her constituency, Fletcher was nowhere to be seen – but when there’s a chance to attack the elected leader of the Labour Party she grabs it with both hands!

Jeremy is rightly resisting these attacks, and his supporters inside and outside the party are building a movement to defend him, including a petition which now has over 200,000 signatures and a demonstration outside Parliament. The Blairite coup has been on the cards since Jeremy became leader, and is now in full voice – we need to come out fighting to defend him.

Nicky Downes, who stood as a Socialist candidate against Fletcher in the 2015 elections, said “There is clear support for Jeremy from the public, with 10,000 people on the streets tonight at a protest in favour of his leadership. Colleen Fletcher has shown her true colours by resigning from the shadow cabinet along with the Blairites. It’s time to deselect her. Coventry needs an MP that will share Jeremy Corbyn’s opposition to austerity and fight for this city.”

A crucial weapon for those who want to defend the leadership of Corbyn and John McDonnell is to demand the reintroduction of mandatory reselection of MPs, meaning that local Labour Party members can hold them to account for their actions. Jeremy could even go further and remove the Labour whip from the plotters who are attempting to remove him!

Labour members and Corbyn supporters in Coventry North East who are angered by Fletcher’s actions should mobilise and pass a motion in their constituency party condemning her actions and demanding she faces reselection before a general election is held.

Jeremy is absolute right to stand up to the plotters and should continue to do so, and fight to defend his leadership in a fresh contest if necessary. We will continue to support his leadership as part of the fight for an anti-austerity party that will represent ordinary people.

Academies and Free Schools cause chaos in Coventry – local Academy to close

Academies and Free Schools cause chaos in Coventry – local Academy to close

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Save our School banner

We are pleased to carry the article below by Jane Nellist, joint secretary of Coventry National Union of Teachers (NUT) and a member of the national executive of the NUT. She writes in a personal capacity.


Coventry is witnessing the catastrophic consequences of the government’s programme of Academies and Free Schools. This comes at a time when the government is planning for the academisation of all schools!

The day before Year 6 children learnt which secondary school they were to be allocated, it was announced that, in effect, Woodlands Academy would be closing. The ‘consultation’ paper sent to all parents is for the  neighbouring Tile Hill Wood Academy, a girl’s school, to be renamed and designated a co-ed Academy, opening in September 2017, taking the boys from Woodlands in stages, starting with the Y7 in September.

There has been a total destabilisation of schools in the West area of the city with the opening of a Free School, Finham 2 by one of the more successful Academies which is now over-subscribed.   Even the DfE’s own impact assessment identified a detrimental impact on all three secondary schools in the area, all of which are Academies.

The opening of a girls Muslim Free School in the city and a Sikh Free School has also contributed to the fall in numbers across the city for other schools.

The introduction of competition and surplus places is not the way to raise standards.  Only a democratically accountable and planned education system can do this. Strong, well-resourced Local Authorities, working with schools, sharing good practice and supporting each other is a model that we know works.

It’s ironic that we are facing these problems in Coventry for two reasons.  Firstly, Woodlands School was built in 1954 and was one of the original Comprehensive schools built in this country.  A new future for education after the second world war, now a victim of the Tory vision of education!

The second reason is that in 2011, Coventry NUT led a fight, including strike action, to save both Woodlands and Tile Hill from being turned into Academies.

We warned of the problems that would come if they went ahead.  Governors claimed they would get new school buildings and that there would be more funding- neither of which has materialised!  Instead, Woodlands Governors have failed miserably, running up huge debts and the school is in ‘Requires Improvement’.  The school buildings are shoddy and have not benefitted from re-building as they were promised under the ‘Building Schools for the Future’ programme which was shelved by this government.

We are now left with a school closure, our members at risk of losing jobs, pupils who are angry about the way they are being treated and communities feeling let down. In a few years’ time, forecasts show we will be desperate for school places!

You may ask where the DfE is in all of this.  They appear to have abdicated their responsibility completely. The Regional Schools Commissioner, Pank Patel, has hardly instilled any confidence in the process, and is now leaving his role to go back to headship in an Academy! Unions have written to ask for an urgent meeting but have heard nothing.  When they showed up at consultation meetings they failed to answer any questions at all.

We cannot even get simple written answers to questions about redundancy payments for staff.

As the consultation ran over the local elections, both Tories and Labour squabbled over who was to blame. Interestingly, at least one councillor was on the governing body and part of the finance committee– why did they not see the financial crisis coming? The consequences of this delayed any decisions, a re-run of the consultation which has meant that staff, parents and most importantly, pupils were all left in limbo.

As we break up for half term, the final decision has been made, the school will close in September 2017. Tile Hill Wood Academy will be re-named and will become co-ed.

For Woodlands to have been saved it needed a huge investment in resources to pay off the debt and to enhance the school’s buildings.  More importantly, it needed more pupils.

What has been experienced in Coventry isn’t progress- it’s anarchy and it serves no-one well.  Parents are understandably very angry and concerned for their child’s education.

As teachers, we want good local schools that serve our communities.  We have to continue the battle to fight this crazy system and build for a return to the vision of a truly Comprehensive education based on co-operation rather than competition and democratic accountability rather than the anarchy of the market place.

The big question is-will it happen again?  Well of course it will- we are entering into the world of the market for our schools.  That’s why we have to fight against academisation.  We warned about the risks back in 2008 when the first Academy, Grace Academy, replaced Woodway School. The evidence is clear- academisation does not produce better schools.

We shall continue to support our members and the communities that our schools serve.  The fight against the government’s plans for more acdademisation needs to be stepped up.  Lessons need to be learned and we need to galvanise our resolve. Our education system is not for sale and it’s not for giving away!

 

Socialist expelled from Labour to speak in Coventry

Socialist expelled from Labour to speak in Coventry

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Hannah Sell

Hannah Sell, the Socialist Party deputy general secretary, who served alongside Tony Benn on the Labour Party’s ruling national executive committee (1988/89) will be speaking at the Party’s public meeting at 7.30pm Thursday 12th May at the Methodist Hall, Hertford St/New Union Street, Coventry City Centre. The meeting will look at the outcome of the local elections, the battle between Jeremy Corbyn and the Blairites, the splits in the Tories over the EU refendum, the global fight for socialism and much more.

Originally from the West Midlands, Ms Sell helped lead school student strikes in 1985  against Thatcher’s YTS Slave labour scheme, later becoming a leader of the Labour party Young Socialists. A former elected member of the labour Party National Executive Committee (1988-89), Hannah was expelled from the Labour Party along with thousands of other Militant supporters for their Socialist ideas & views in the late 80’s & early 90’s.

The Facebook event for the meeting is here

 

 

New Labour right-winger imposed in Sherbourne – vote for an anti-austerity candidate

New Labour right-winger imposed in Sherbourne – vote for an anti-austerity candidate

Jim Hensman with Dave Nellist

Jim Hensman with Dave Nellist

Across Coventry, the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition will be standing candidates to put forward the anti-cuts alternative in the local elections on Thursday 5th May.

This includes Sherbourne where we will be standing Jim Hensman. There has been considerable controversy over the imposition of Blairite Lynnette Kelly as the Labour candidate, against the wishes of the members of Sherbourne ward Labour Party. In her election leaflet she says “the Labour Council will continue to work closely with big businesses”. For us this highlights the priorities of leading figures in Coventry Labour Party – they see this as more important than opposing and fighting Tory cuts.

We need Councillors who will actually stand up against the cuts, not just implement them.

TUSC does not want to stand against Labour and will support any Labour candidate that has opposed the cuts or pledges to do so.

As Jeremy Corbyn has said, “Austerity is a political choice, not an economic necessity”.

Unfortunately Blairite Labour councillors nationally have been making the political choice for austerity and expelling Labour councillors who oppose the cuts.

Former councillors like these, together with trade union activists and campaigners from groups like the one fighting the closure of the last two play centres in Coventry, make up the candidates standing for TUSC. Saving the play centres would only cost £100,000. Yet Coventry Labour Council increased their reserves this year by £3 million. The cuts are definitely a political choice – vote TUSC and fight austerity!

The following are extracts from one of our election communications in Sherbourne.

Jim Hensman, our TUSC candidate has lived in the ward for over 40 years


A message to Labour voters in Sherbourne

The Labour candidate is Lynnette Kelly. She was a councillor in Henley ward until 2015 before stepping down in a failed attempt to become a MP in Warwick and Leamington at the last general election.

The local press have reported how she has been imposed on Sherbourne Labour Party by the regional Party machine, against the wishes of the members. The local Labour Party Secretary who opposed her appointment was also suspended without being given any reason. So much for democracy!

When Lynnette was a councillor she voted for cuts, along with the rest of the Labour group. She is a supporter of the Blairite Progress faction which seeks to undermine Jeremy Corbyn. Is this the sort of representative Sherbourne needs? We want Labour to stand up and vote against the cuts in the Council chamber. Not just act like Tories.

Our candidate, Jim Hensman has lived in the ward for over 40 years.  He has a long history of standing up for ordinary people, has been a trade unionist all of his life and was expelled from Labour for standing up for his Socialist views and being a supporter of Dave Nellist.

Unlike the establishment parties, Jim would be a voice on the Council for ordinary people and would oppose and vote against any more cuts to our local services.

Jim says

“The establishment have been shaken to the core by the support for Corbyn and now the Panama tax scandal. The Tories are weak and divided on every issue, and with the news that David Cameron had his nose in the Panama tax trough…We say he has to go!

But Coventry’s Labour Councillors spend more time attacking Corbyn than the Tories and carry on with further devastating cuts. TUSC councillors will fight to defend the jobs and services that we as ordinary people rely on. We need to build a city-wide campaign against the cuts to demand the return of money stolen by central government, whether it was Labour or Conservatives in power.”

The Tories are trying to rob Coventry, and the Labour Council are letting them!

Instead of fighting back, Labour in Coventry have made cuts that any Tory Council would be proud of. The Council have £84 million in reserves, this should be used to fund services and to buy time to build a campaign win back money for our city.

Despite the election of Jeremy Corbyn who is trying to oppose the Tories, your local Labour Council have voted to

  • Close libraries and want to replace staff with unpaid volunteers
  • Shut play centres
  • Make over 1,000 workers redundant over the next few years
  • Close public toilets across the city

Labour signed us up for George Osborne’s West Midlands Combined Authority – Ann Lucas and Co didn’t even want Coventry people to have a vote. Is that because they were afraid about what we would say?

If you would want to help the TUSC campaign in Sherbourne (for eg helping us leaflet, putting up a poster or donating), fill in the form below!

Why I’m standing for TUSC in Bablake

 

Why I’m standing for TUSC in Bablake

Dan Crowter (right) quizzing a Labour Councillor over support for their support for the cuts

Dan Crowter (right) quizzing a Labour Councillor over their support for the cuts

Dan Crowter is our candidate in Bablake ward. Here he explains why he is standing in the local election on Thursday 5th May. Dan is 23, works in a call centre and is a member of the UNITE trade union.


I stood as a Socialist candidate in Bablake ward last year to put forward a socialist, anti-austerity alternative in that election. At that time Labour were running candidates in elections across the country,  putting forward plans for deep cuts in services that were as bad as Tory plans. The Labour candidate last year, David Kershaw, represents everything wrong with the right wing of Labour – a man who has proposed closing libraries and cutting school transport for disabled children!

This year, though, Jeremy Corbyn is leading the Labour Party, and has said he opposes austerity measures. With that in mind, we wrote to every Labour candidate in the city asking them to meet with us to discuss how we can fight the cuts together – as we have done previously. Unfortunately none of them were willing to discuss with us.

I think people in Coventry deserve Councillors who’ll stand up for them, rather than cutting their services.

The Tory cuts planned in Coventry will devastate services – and we need to fight them. That’s why I’m standing for the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition as an anti-cuts candidate.

Coventry Socialists announce 2016 election campaign

Coventry Socialists announce 2016 election campaign

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TUSC activists rally against cuts

Election nominations are closed and we can now confirm that Socialist candidates will be standing in all 18 wards in Coventry for the local elections in May. The Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC), backed by the RMT transport workers union, will be standing anti-cuts candidates across the country.

Before making the decision to stand, we wrote to every Labour candidate in Coventry and asked them to meet with us to discuss whether they would be willing to vote against cuts – cuts that will lead to the closure of libraries, public toilets, adult education centres and community centres. None of them would even agree to meet us. Ann Lucas and her colleagues have also signed up the city up to George Osborne’s West Midlands Combined Authority, without even allowing Coventry people a vote.

Our candidates include Dave Nellist in St Michaels, as well as leading trade unionists, young workers, students and community activists.

Labour’s leader, Jeremy Corbyn, wants to fight austerity .We support Jeremy’s anti-austerity policies – it is regrettable that Coventry Labour Councillors have voted to implement the Tory cuts on our city with some Councillors more concerned with attacking Jeremy than fighting the Tories.

As we have done previously, the Socialist Party and TUSC will set out a programme to fight the cuts – including the use of some of the £84 million of reserves that the Council has. This could fund services and delay the cuts, buying time for the building of a mass city wide campaign involving unions, local communities and anti-cuts groups to win back the money stolen from our city by the Tories.

We will also make the case that the Panama Papers tax scandal shows that the money exists in our society for decent public services and housing for all – the problem is that it is in the hands of the 1 per cent at the top. It is austerity for us, tax evasion for the rich! That is why we need socialism.

Will you be voting for the Socialists? Can you help with our campaign by leafleting, putting up a poster or donating? If so, fill in the form below!

Coventry Labour council schools chief sets up academies firm

Coventry Labour council schools chief sets up academies firm

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Cllr David Kershaw

A Coventry Labour councillor has set up a business designed to take over schools and turn them into academies. Councillor David Kershaw, who is cabinet member for education, is heading a new academy company called the West Midlands Academy Trust.

Writing in the Coventry Observer, Les Reid revealed that the company was set up just last month by Cllr Kershaw and is believed “to be in line to win Tory government permission to take over five struggling schools in Birmingham. The five schools are understood to be those which make up the Perry Beeches Trust and are already Academies. The fact that these schools are struggling is a clear indictment of the government’s Academies programme.

Cllr Kershaw has done this at a time when Labour are campaigning against Tory plans to force schools to become academies, and have been distributing leaflets around Woodlands ward claiming local Labour council candidate Patricia Hetherton is “fully behind the campaign to save Woodlands Academy”. After the release of the Panama Papers implicating leading politicians in tax dodging, this is yet another example of hypocrisy.

Hetherton’s leaflet also claims that “[she] knew that the opening of Finham Park 2 would have an impact on student numbers in the area”. “Local” Labour MP Geoffrey Robinson also features on the leaflet, and last month he said the same to the Coventry Telegraph. However, while they say this now, Cllr Kershaw wrote to the Department for Education last year expressing support for Finham Park 2!

Cllr Kershaw has also been key in advocating and pushing through the council’s library closure plans, and the (currently shelved) plans to cut transport to schools for disabled children. As a former headteacher, it is shocking that he seems willing to make cuts that will clearly damage children’s education.

Other partners in the business include Alan East, a Labour candidate for Bablake ward in May. Locally this is yet another example of Labour saying one thing and doing another – how do Kershaw’s actions compare with the anti-austerity policies of Jeremy Corbyn?

Members of the National Union of Teachers (NUT) are campaigning against the enforced academisation of all schools and will be balloted over strike action against funding cuts and threats to teacher’s contracts and pay and conditions. We give them our full support – concerted industrial action can stop these plans and bring this government down!

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.”

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