Birmingham Councillors Have A Choice

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On the 1st March Birmingham’s Labour Council will meet to agree yet another round of cuts to services, this time axing 1200 more jobs as part of a £90m ‘savings’ package.

The reality is, after £567m being taken from the budget since 2010, there is nothing left to cut. The ruling Labour group wants to withdraw staff from nationally agreed terms and conditions. General union GMB is set to ballot its 7,000 members employed there if this happens.

There are three main proposals. Reduce sick pay to three months’ full wages followed by three months’ half wages – half the current entitlement. Stop performance-related raises for three years, starting in the 2017-18 financial year. And add half an hour to the working week.

The council will also charge workers who are required to have regular criminal record checks £13 a year.

Council leader John Clancy said at budget consultation meetings he will “wave any placard and go on any demonstrations against government cuts to local authority financing”. But he clearly will not take the lead and set a no-cuts budget. The GMB has rightly attacked Birmingham’s Labour leaders for betraying their supposed principles.

But despite the mantra of Birmingham’s councillors that reductions in funding from central government leave them with no choice, they do have the power to resist the cuts. The notion that ‘there is nothing else we can do’ is wrong.

Councils have the legal and financial powers to delay cuts by drawing on reserves, using borrowing powers, and working with tenants and trade unions to avoid evictions and privatisation. This can all be done within the law and cannot be overruled by central government.

This could buy time for a campaign involving the population of Birmingham to win back the money from central government, just as Liverpool City Council did in the 1980s. The Labour Shadow Chancellor, John McDonnell, could strengthen the position of councils by pledging to pay back any debts accrued by councils taking this path if Labour win in 2020, funded by collecting the £120bn worth of taxes dodged anually by large corporations.

This is a serious test for Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, as well as the pro-Corbyn group Momentum. Labour’s leadership should be instructing council chiefs to propose no-cuts budgets.

If local authorities won’t, Momentum should work with council unions and groups like the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition. We need to kick the pro-austerity right wing out of Labour – or prepare to stand anti-austerity candidates against Blairite cutters at May’s elections.

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