Thursday, March 06, 2014

Liverpool Council Hits Vulnerable With Enormous Cuts Budget

Last night, Liverpool's Labour council approved Mayor Joe Anderson's budget for the next three years. Faced with a shortfall in funding from the Conservative/Lib Dem national coalition, Labour are dumping the bill on the city's working class residents, with one million pound per week to be gouged from a population of 465,000. While there would inevitably be many job losses resulting from Anderson's plans, as ever, the most vulnerable are faced with the most pain.

In 2013, Anderson's previous round of cuts brought maybe three hundred protesters to the town hall, and a ferocious demonstration led to an arrest and confrontations with the police. This time, there were less people, but the mood seemed more focused and determined, rather than being an expression of pure rage. The familiar faces of the left made up a smaller percentage of the crowd, with many people being brought their by their own jobs or services being under threat.

While the council tax will rise by 1.99% next year - just below the 2% threshold which would trigger a referendum - the people of Liverpool will receive far less in terms of vital services. 'Mandatory' services - which all councils are legally obliged to provide - will still be cut by 25%. 'Discretionary' services - hardly luxurious extras - will be slashed by half.

So far, the list of 'savings' released by the council adds up to 'only' £62.5 million - meaning nearly £100 million is still to be accounted for. There was no mention of this missing £100 million in council minutes for last night's vote. Even so, what has been published would cause utter devastation. Anderson's schemes provide for:
  • £42m cut from Adult Social Care budget over the next three years; to significantly cut the number of day centres.
  • £16m cut from Children’s Services; significantly cutting the number of council Children's Centres.
  • Scrapping of 'lollipop' school crossing patrol officers on busy main roads near schools.
  • £500,000 cut from library services each year (on top of £1m agreed cut last year) – significantly cutting libraries by 25%.
  • £4m cut from Lifestyle Centres, which would see Park Road and Everton Park centres close, beginning with swimming pools closing. 
If these are the media-friendly headline-grabbers, we can only imagine what else lies ahead.

A campaigner against the closure of Park Road leisure centre in Toxteth spoke at the rally, and she was warmly received by the crowd. The Park Road protest group has gained media coverage in the Liverpool Echo, and a petition has got nearly three thousand signatures. However, staff and service users will have to adopt other tactics if they hope to keep it open. Recently, leisure centre users in Belfast established committees "free of politicians" to organise resistance to closures, and achieved a six week stay of execution as a starting point.

Users of children's centres were also in attendance at the demo, and were talking about how the council's decision is "just the beginning" for their fight too. It will have to be, if closures are to be avoided.

A speaker from Old Swan Against The Cuts described how their group was founded by a disabled women who sat outside the library, and it now holds regular meetings, advice surgeries, and intends to stand a candidate in the local elections on a "class struggle basis".

If Joe Anderson gets his way, by the time he leaves office, public services in Liverpool will be a shadow of what they were when he became council leader. In fact, he has declared that the city faces "bankruptcy" within a few years, but refuses to lead a fight against this, because this would risk his privileged position in society, with a £66,000 salary and an OBE. The task of beating the cuts therefore falls with far less to lose.
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