Salford, Liverpool and Tower Hamlets

Submitted by AWL on 4 March, 2020 - 11:06 Author: Martin Thomas
Salford council workers

On 26 February, Paul Dennett, the Labour mayor of Salford, announced that "for the first year since 2010/11… Salford Council has managed to set a no cuts budget after nine debilitating years of Tory-Lib-Dem and Tory cuts, which have taken £211 million or 53% of central government funding out of Salford".

This is surely a good move, and some of the credit must go to campaigning over years by unions and community groups in Salford.

Steve North, Salford branch secretary of the local government workers' union Unison, writing in a personal capacity for Socialist Alternative, says: "The most significant step taken was in 2018, when the mayor and his council colleagues abandoned plans to close five threatened council-run day nurseries and instead campaigned with trade unions, parents, carers and the wider community to fight for the requisite resources to keep them open.

"Words were turned into deeds, which saw over 1,000 people march in support of the joint campaign, of which the council were part. Chants that would previously have been directed towards the council, were instead directed towards the government".

The other background to this move is the government's decision about central funding for local councils for the year 2020-21.

Feeling, probably, that they had too many other problems to worry about, the Tories increased "core funding" in line with inflation.

That move did not reverse the cuts on the last decade. It did not reopen the libraries, the children's centres, and the other facilities closed. Nor did it prompt the local government employers to offer more than 2% pay rise to council workers in 2020-1, despite their average 22% loss in real wages since 2009.

But it meant that there is no rigid pressure from central funding cuts onto local councils. Where councils have made cuts nevertheless, that will be because they want to increase reserves, because they want to improve their financial position for 2021-22 and later years, because they are "rolling forward" cuts plans already made, or because they want to cut one area in order to boost another.

So the declaration on 30 January by Joe Anderson, the Labour mayor of Liverpool, was less heroic than it seems.

"I will refuse to make any further cuts to our budget because we are now at the stage where doing so will mean closing down vital services".

That's good, but it can almost certainly be done by adjustments within the financial framework set for the council by the government. Over February Anderson has given no sign of organising any great mobilisation or confrontation.

Some Labour councils, however, are continuing cuts-minded policies.

In Tower Hamlets, East London, the local National Education Union (NEU) and Unison branches have returned huge majorities for strikes, on big turnouts, and the GMB branch is also balloting, with its ballot due to close on 4 March.

They are resisting a scheme called "Tower Rewards", which the Labour council threatens to impose on workers from April.

The scheme is essentially about pushing Tower Hamlets workers down to the minima set by the national "green book", and eliminating better conditions which have been won there over the years, especially on severance payments.

Like other councils, Tower Hamlets is under no strong pressure from central government to make redundancies in 2020-21, but seems nevertheless intent to push through its scheme in order to ease redundancies in later years.

Activists will argue for solidarity with the Tower Hamlets unions, and for the labour movement to set plans to win a good pay rise for council workers, end further cuts, and start to restore some of the services lost in the last decade.

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