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Hull: what Now For Local Government?

10th March 2014

Hull and E. Yorks Labour Representation Committee
Public Meeting: “What Now For Local Government?

This was a fantastic, well attended event held on Friday 28th February in Hull.

Many thanks to LRC National Chair John McDonnell MP for coming all the way from his West London constituency to be the special Guest Speaker.

The context of this meeting was the brutal cuts forced upon Hull City Council by the ideologically driven attack on the working class by the Tories and their Lib Dem accomplices. Whilst the per capita local government spending cuts across England are £69 per head, in Hull it is an eye watering £228. This means a rise in council tax, cuts to vital services such as adult care, and up to 450 job losses over the next twelve months. In the East Riding the Tory council has raided reserves and withdrawn help for many low income families with council tax. This is simply kicking the can down the road as County Hall in Beverley must still find substantial cuts. The per head figure for cuts in the East Riding is £82. Unfortunately this has led to the Leader of Hull City Council falling into the Tory trap of pleading that Hull needs the money more than residents in the East Riding. This is classic Tory divide and rule tactics where the working classes are made to fight each other in a race to the bottom instead of focusing their ire on the Cabinet of millionaires in London. The bankers and the criminal behaviour in the financial sector wrecked the economy and the workers are meant to pay for the champagne fuelled disaster.

Paul Holmes who sits on UNISON’s National Executive Committee came over from his Kirklees base to speak to the meeting in a personal capacity. Paul has worked in local government since 1973 and spoke passionately about the vital role in society of workers in this sector who deliver day in, day out the services that make the UK a civilised society where we put the needs of all above the financial ambitions of the individual. He drew comparisons with what you would come across in our city centres now compared with 40 years ago. The rise of begging and homelessness is a blight on our claims to be a caring nation. The values of our dedicated local government workers are being strained by the trashing of living standards and the relentless attacks on jobs. Paul drew on the experiences of the 1945 generation when, with a deficit five times the burden that it is now, a Labour Government came to power on a socialist programme, delivering two million homes, the NHS and took vast swathes of industry into public control. The public want the Labour Party to follow this template, but this time we must ensure proper democratic workers control to ensure the railways and utilities are accountable to their users and workers.

John McDonnell is the Labour MP for Hayes and Harlington in West London and Chair of the LRC nationally. He spoke about the travails of his constituents facing severely eroded wages, a crisis in living standards and extra torment via the Bedroom Tax, whilst living in a city where house prices and commodities are rocketing in value. The gap between the rich and poor in London is becoming a chasm. Working class Londoners are often the forgotten victims of this crisis. John spoke about the distressing nature of the casework coming into his office caused by this crisis. Osborne has drawn the battle line and Pickles is enthusiastically joining in. Regarding Ed Miliband, John expressed hope that he has moved away from the neo liberal agenda. When making policy Ed watches carefully and listens to the arguments before making a decision which is very different from Blair’s single minded approach where he refused to listen, even when one million marched against Iraq.

John then took a series of questions from the floor from local government workers and residents. These included discussions about just what Pickles could do if Labour Councils refused to pass on cuts. The examples of Poplar and Liverpool were raised but it was recognised that councillors cannot be expected to stand alone and need the support of their communities, the unions and the Labour Party as a whole including Front Bench MPs. We must be wary and recognise the true Tory agenda for local government as exemplified by the “Easy Jet” approach to local services in some Tory councils.

Shelagh Finlay is the Labour Councillor for Bridlington South, one of the most deprived wards not only in Yorkshire but throughout the UK. She has worked tirelessly with the Labour Group to keep the interests of the working class at the forefront of the political agenda in the East Riding. She spoke about the dreadful circumstances that her residents face in an area of high unemployment, and high rates of deprivation that proved resistant and hard to lower, even when the economy was booming. Shelagh has written extensively about the Bedroom Tax and its impact on her residents. She and her comrades forced the Tory council to pass an amendment expressing sympathy with those under the cosh. But at the end of the day Tories are Tories and they refused to back Shelagh’s motion and in addition they actually turned down Government cash to help disabled people with the Tax.

“Our tenants will have to choose between leaving their homes and communities or face paying the difference. Those who make the choice of downsizing may not actually have that option as a suitable property may not be available.
I asked the Councillors in the chamber to support the motion but they decided to put forward an amendment that offered “sympathy and “support” but nothing else. We could have put up to 2.5 times the amount in the Discretionary Housing Payment but choose not to. The Tories and Lib Dems voted for the motion which of course was passed. The Labour Group voted against as we wanted more for our residents who will be put in impossible situations.

This motion was seconded by Cllr Keith Moore who argued:
“Although the intention behind this introduction of this bill was to save money many commentators predict it will generate costs rather than savings.I believe this Council and the taxpayer stand to be worse off as our tenants are forced into the private rented sector”.

Gill Kennett. Gill is the Labour councillor for the Holderness ward in East Hull. This part of Hull faces the prospect of losing vital services, especially in the adult care sector which aims to give help and dignity for vulnerable adults in their home environment.

Gill took the momentous and courageous decision to defy the Labour whip and vote against a cuts budget for her residents.

Once again Gill’s quiet determination and iron will to stand up for what she believes in shone throughout her contribution. Being the only councillor to vote against cuts must be a lonely position, but the reception she received from the floor and from the platform is proof positive that Gill has the support and good will for what she is doing from a large number of people in the community.

“The emperor and his new clothes! This Hans Christian Anderson story just about sums up how I am personally experiencing living in the world today. We are being informed on a regular basis by the right wing press about the garments he is wearing”

Gill explained how the ruling class use the distraction of the deficit myth, the cult of celebrity, fears about welfare and immigrants to pursue a programme of deliberately using the latest crisis of capitalism to destroy the rights and the resistance of the working class. But if we stop being afraid, we will realise that we have the power and together anything is possible. As Roosevelt said, “The only thing to fear, is fear itself”.

This meeting gave us hope that if we stick together and promote the values of socialism then great things are possible and we will achieve our aim of a Labour Government committed to a shift of wealth and power to the working class.

Dermot Rathbone (Meeting Chair).

Views expressed are in a personal capacity and may not represent the official line of the groups that the speakers are members of.

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