Leeds TUC makes call for no cuts budget in Leeds

At a specially convened public meeting on Tuesday night, Leeds TUC’s anti-austerity committee presented it’s alternative budget proposals to reverse all the cuts to jobs and services as well as reversing fee and rent increases in this year’s Leeds City Council budget.

Iain Dalton, Leeds Socialist Party

This year’s Leeds City Council budget is the 9th austerity budget in a row proposed by the Labour-controlled council, passing on the Tories cuts from local government onto local people. For the last year the council has received no Revenue Support Grant, part of £266m worth of cuts from central government.

Instead of mounting a serious fight demanding the return of this stolen funding, the council has instead pursued a strategy for seeking to increase business rate growth in the city, particularly through city centre development and has trialled 100% business rates retention last year and 75% this year. However, in the council’s own initial proposals they commented “…this apparent growth in the economy has not translated into business rate growth; in fact the income from business rates available to the Council declined from 2014/15 to 2016/17, only returning to 2014/15 levels in 2018/19.”

The council boast in their initial proposals that council has made “…the level of savings required since 2010 whilst simultaneously creating the conditions for a thriving and sustainable city where people’s lives are better”.

Many residents wouldn’t agree with this, after having to force the council into u-turns over the last year around a number of its proposals including building a free school academy on Fearnville Playing Fields and cutting 16-18 SEND students transport. Thankfully community groups, linking up with trade unions, mobilised to defeat these plans.

But if action isn’t taken now this will only get worse in the future. With a £90.8m projected budget gap up to the 2021-22 financial year, the initial proposals stated “consideration may have to be given to stopping, delivering differently or charging for those services that are no longer affordable and are a lesser priority than others”.

Alternative budget

The alternative budget proposals note that Leeds City Council is making use of some reserves to support budget spending, such as ‘unearmarking’ the Early Leavers Initiative reserve and making temporary use of section 106 money. But this year this is in the context of putting an additional £4.5m into reserves, following last year placing additional money’s into the reserves following a £7.3m VAT rebate.

The Leeds TUC anti-austerity sub-committee identified £6.631m of cuts to jobs and services, and rent and fee increases in this year’s budget out of a larger budget gap which is partially plugged by reserves, capital investments leading to money savings (such as a reduced energy bill as a result of upgrading to LED street lamps) and some other measures that will not impact jobs and services.

Key amongst the cuts is the proposal for an inflation-busting 4.3% increase for tenants of PFI-funded council homes (whilst other council tenants recieve 1% rent decreases). ‘Efficiencies’ are being pushed for in various parts of the council including in leisure services and the library service.

The alternative proposals also proposed some additional spend, such as to reverse the £230,000 cuts to domestic violence services highlighted by the Women’s Lives Matter campaign, adopting some of Leeds Labour Representation Committee’s demands on the council including ending the use of baliffs to chase council tax arrears as Hammersmith & Fulham council have done. It also called for the council to make proposals to pay outsourced workers the same minimum wage as in-house council workers as demanded by Leeds Unison.

But the key is not only passing on no cuts this year, which would show its seriousness in resisting the Tories, but working together with trade unions, community groups and other authorities to demand the funding stolen from our communities. Given the current instability of the government, and the possibility of an imminent general election, we should also be demanding John McDonnell as Shadow Chancellor pledges that an incoming Labour government would reimburse councils who take action to defend services.

At it’s January delegate meeting Leeds TUC agreed to organise a lobby of the council budget setting meeting on 27th February in support of these proposals.

Leeds TUC lobby of Leeds City Council budget setting meeting – Wednesday 27th February, 12noon outside Leeds Civic Hall.

More info and copies of the alternative budget proposals can be found at https://leedstuc.wordpress.com/2019/02/16/leeds-tuc-to-lobby-councillors-for-alternative-budget-proposals/

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