“We can’t, and won’t, vote for cuts”

By Alan Gibbons

March 2nd 2022 – This evening I was one of seven Labour councillors to break the whip at Liverpool City Council’s budget meeting. Six of the councillors, Lindsay Melia, Rona Heron, Alfie Hincks, Joanne Calvert, Alison Clarke and I followed through on our promise to vote against the Cabinet’s proposals to slash millions. This will inevitably lead to draconian disciplinary action by the Party. We were joined by Norris Green councillor George Knibb. Former Lord Mayor Anna Rothery, expelled Labour member Sam Gorst and suspended member Peter Mitchell also took a stand against cuts.

In my speech, I said: “Firstly, let’s get one thing straight: the measures in this budget are not “savings”, they are cuts.

“Cuts which, if the last 12 years have taught us anything, often cost far more than they save in the long-term.

“If we don’t find an alternative, we will be implementing Tory cuts year after year and it will change us into something we don’t want to be.

“Liverpool’s communities are at breaking point. As a matter of conscience, I am not prepared to vote for cuts that will make life harder for the people I represent.”

Councillors Anna Rothery, George Knibb and Sam Gorst slammed the decision to raise the level of reserves from £20.7 million to £30.7 million and pressed the case for an alternative to swingeing cuts.

So what led to our rebellion?

It was firstly a decade of grinding austerity, followed by the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. There is widespread poverty and families are struggling to make ends meet, with many dependent on food banks and subsidised pantries. Liverpool City Council has seen its funding reduced by around 65% since 2010, with spending now £465m a year less than it was in 2010. Quite simply, our communities can’t afford the Tories and we can’t afford Tory cuts, but cuts there are, millions of pounds of them, with little sign of any respite in future years.

The cuts are painful. They are mainly being made in adult and children’s social care. There is a £280k cut to libraries that passed out of council control in 2014. They will have to bid from a diminishing ‘pot’ to continue to provide their service. These libraries are disproportionately in the north end of the city where I am a councillor. There is a £40 Green Bin charge, unacceptable at a time the council is working to go Zero Carbon at a time of climate emergency. All of this is accompanied by the maximum 2.99% council tax increase at the very time we face a cost-of-living crisis.

Against this background, the Tory-appointed commissioners, sent to the city in the wake of the damaging Caller Report into three council departments, have received a backdated 50% pay rise. Cuts for the many, enrichment for the few. 

Make no mistake, the main burden of blame rests with the Tories and the Lib Dems who facilitated their austerity agenda. Nobody on the Labour benches wanted to vote for cuts, but year after year Labour administrations, however reluctantly, have passed on Tory cuts.

This year, there were attempts to put alternative proposals, to frame a no-cuts budget, but one by one they were turned down, either as ‘not robust’ or ‘something to consider next year.’

I wasn’t elected to make the lives of the people who voted for me worse. The Tory government has no right to level down hard-pressed, working-class communities. It has no right to backtrack on its promises, during the pandemic, that it would provide ‘whatever it takes.’

The government cynically and calculatedly makes councils the conduit for their cuts, passing on responsibility. Labour councils are in a terrible position, but there are things they can do, priorities they can change. Too often, there is just financial orthodoxy. Too rarely is there any protest. We could have campaigned against the cuts, but we didn’t. The North-West Regional conference of the Labour Party unanimously voted for a campaign against the cuts twice in four years. Nothing was done.

So what does the future hold? If the Labour Party decides anti-cuts councillors are not eligible for Party membership, there will be a group of independent left wing councillors who will hold the majority Party to account and demand the promises of a future transformative budget are not empty promises.

Tonight’s vote is just the beginning.

 Alan Gibbons is councillor for Warbreck ward, Liverpool Walton.

Image: Liverpool Townhall. Source: Liverpool Townhall. Author: Miguel Mendez from Malahide, Ireland, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

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