Speech by CfS Treasurer Simon MacFarlane to the People's Assembly Scotland.
Much attention is currently focussed on council cuts as budgets are set, but we know that austerity cuts are impacting right across the public sector. Some less highlighted cuts include SEPA. This winter has seen many communities affected by the dismal reality of homes being flooded – just when the Scottish Environment Protection Agency is being cut by 6%. Our major art institutions are being cut by 3%.
In Swinney’s austerity budget the big loser is local government. The budget is cut by 3.5% or £500m (£750m in real terms). On top of that there are additional commitments like the NI increases that could double that cut. CoSLA calculates this will cost 15,000 jobs or ‘the equivalent of 50 Tata Steelworks’ – but don’t expect a PACE taskforce!
We are beginning to see a shift in attitudes to the freeze and council cuts. Moray Council - that hotbed of radicalism – an Independent/Tory minority administration - has been talking of an 18% Council tax rise in order to mitigate some of the impact of the cuts. What is irrefutable is that freezing Council Tax removes a fundamental basis of local democracy – the right to determine taxation and spending.
We believe that the job of Councillors who oppose austerity is to demonstrate political leadership - not merely adopt cuts proposals recommended by Officers. The People’s Assembly recognises that in order to take a stand Councillors will need broad based support and we commit to building that at grassroots level along with trade unions and other progressive bodies. We believe a more socialist agenda for local government should include advocating measures such as:
• No compulsory redundancy agreements – these must cover np cuts in hours or grades;
• Meaningful engagement and joint working with recognised trade unions, local Trade Union Councils and People’s Assemblies to campaign against austerity;
• No to externalisation and privatisation – Councillors have been sold stock transfers, Arm’s Length External Organisations and PFI as the way to mitigate cuts. It’s time to take a stand for democratically controlled and accountable public services and end the profiteering;
• Utilisation of reserves – if this winter tells us anything it is time to use rainy day money to protect services;
• More coherent and joined up national campaigning against Westminster and Scottish Government austerity;
• Signing up to and delivering on UNISON’s Ethical Care Charter;
• Issuing of bonds to raise funds more cheaply;
• Refinancing PFI and other debts;
• Campaigning for an amnesty for historic debt;
• No more austerity denial – be up front about cuts and the damage they are doing – label cuts ‘This service withdrawn due to austerity.’
CfS and Momentum have been initiating local campaign meetings involving Cllrs alongside Labour, community and trade union activists to identify practical and effective means of resisting local authority austerity budgets.