Another Year, Another Round of Blairite Cuts in Leeds

Anti-austerity ideas proved very popular in June’s snap general election – but the Labour group on Leeds City Council seemed to have failed to get the message as they voted through another round of cuts, their 8th year in a row as the ruling group on the council.

Iain Dalton, Leeds Socialist Party

Faced with £100s of millions of pounds in lost funding to the city from government grants since the election of the Tories in 2010 as part of their austerity agenda – Labour-led Leeds City Council have failed to resist the cuts.

Instead they’ve adopted a version of trickle-down economics by focusing on a strategy of developing city centre retail on the basis wealth generated there would reach local communities in the rest of the city, buying into the Tory agenda of councils increasingly relying on business rates rather than the current system of pooling wealth from across the country – as had been heoricly pioneered by Labour councillors in the 1920s across London to relieve poverty.

Where the council has dipped into reserves, this hasn’t been as part of setting a no-cuts budget and building a mass campaign, including with other local authorities, to force the funding needed out of the Tory government to fund local services. Instead those reserves are being frittered away piecemeal.

For this year’s Labour has instead tried to dress up their cutbacks with a few nice-sounding sweetners. At the council meeting, leader Judith Blake was quoted as introducing a £8.75 as “That’s a real living wage” – it might be for the academics who proposed it based in Loughborough, but Blake must have missed that it has been the policy of the TUC for a £10 an hour minimum wage for several years now.

But the ‘meat’ of the budget revolved around further cutbacks, such as various increased charges including for wardens for pensioners. Deputy Leader James Lewis was reported as referring to those wishing to reverse these increases as shedding “crocodile tears”.

The Tories & Liberals locally once again attempted to attack funding for trade union facility time, and other amendments included freezing increments for council staff, with the Tories also suggesting cuts to overtime rates of pay and cuts to ‘back office’ staff – it’s clear they favour making workers pay as well for the cutbacks of the Tory government.

A number of amendments tried to reverse some of the cutbacks, a reflection of the growing desire to see the back of austerity. Some amendments suggested reversing charges by various methods, including a Green Party one suggesting increasing car parking charges, on top of Labour’s already proposed increases. But just like the Labour group’s proposals to raise council tax to offset government cuts, this simply shuffles around the misery. Postively, one unforuntely unsuccesful amendment from the now 5 ex-Labour independents proposed looking to bring dementia care homes back in house out of the clutches of the profiteers.

Whilst socialist councillors would go further, and propose an alternative, no-cuts budget (for more info, see the leaflet we produced after last year’s budget), those amendments that didn’t seek to ‘shuffle around the misery’ could be steps in the direction of such a budget. The ‘People’s Budget’ public meeting hosted by Leeds TUC provided a further forum for the beginnings of such discussions which hopefully will be taken forwards over the course of this year to provide such an alternative to cuts in 2019/20.

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