Friday, 24 December 2010

Are The Cuts Necessary?

As Britain faces the biggest ever assault on the main planks of the welfare state – benefits, the NHS, education and local Council services, not to mention legal aid – a remarkable proportion of the public still think the pain is needed. The opinion polls disagree on how citizens are reacting to the October spending review. KPMG/Ipsos Mori, for the Times, found that two in three people agree that there is a need to cut spending on public services (59 per cent) compared to a third who disagree (32 per cent), a higher pro-cuts majority than in September. However, a Guardian/ICM poll in late October found that more people now oppose coalition plans for cuts than support them, with 48% of voters saying the cuts go too far, 36% thinking the balance is right and 8% wanting them to go further. That’s 44% pro cuts, compared to 47% in September and 55% in July. But, commented the Guardian’s Julian Glover, ‘there is no full-scale revolt against the coalition measures after last week's comprehensive spending review, with Labour slipping behind the Conservatives for the first time in the Guardian polling series since July.’ Unfair in the choice of what to cut, but overall, inevitable, is the public verdict according the pollsters. (They may be wrong if they fail to speak to those in crisis, the disabled, the homeless, and those who work 60 hours a week to pay their debts – but does the coalition care about those who often don’t vote ? Or indeed about anyone until they face the music in 2015, by which time the limited gains of two generations of the left will have been smashed ?).

But cuts are not necessary, says Caroline Lucas’ latest pamphlet, ‘Cuts, A Callous Con Trick’ (see http://www.financeforthefuture.com/TaxBriefing.pdf - co-authors are Colin Hines and Richard Murphy of Finance for the Future, which works to combat tax avoidance and evasion). The alternative to cuts is a fair, efficient, progressive tax system. By recouping unpaid and avoided tax, by closing many concessions and loopholes for the rich and the big companies, and by restoring rates of personal taxation on high incomes to what they were in the late 1970s, cuts could be avoided. Some of these proposals were already in the Green election manifesto; this pamphlet and a parallel one by Compass (‘In Place of Cuts: Tax reform to build a fairer society’ – see http://www.compassonline.org.uk/publications/item.asp?d=1533 ) comes up with quite a few more.

And the spectre of the suspicious bond markets – or the gnomes of Zurich, as we used to call them in the 1970s ? Well, Lucas et al. note that 90% of British government bonds are held by companies and individuals IN BRITAIN. They probably include your pension fund and mine. And as Lucas shows, the level of UK debt, or the deficit (annual spending minus tax revenue) is not that large by historic or international standards.

The reality of course is that the Coalition just wants to scrap the welfare state. That’s including the right wing of the Lib Dems, who deceived many by preparing for a Tory alliance and Tory policies behind the scenes. The crisis is just a convenient cover and excuse. Britain is just one more instance of the ‘shock doctrine’ described by Naomi Klein in her book of that name – the use of an economic crisis by corporate lobbyists and free-market ideologues to manoeuvre a government into emergency measures that kill off the public sector.

So what to do ? By 2015 the NHS will have been dismembered, managed in effect by the big private healthcare companies and the SERCOs, Capitas, etc which will probably run the commissioning consortia for GPs. Several universities will have been starved into closure. Another generation of school kids will have grown up in poverty with shrinking family benefits, to become as workless as their parents became in 2008-10. Growth, yes, but of drug dealing and prostitution in the streets and parasitic private contractors taking over town halls, hospitals, and job centres. Can we afford to wait another four and a half years for an election ? ‘Building for the next election’ – national or even local – is inadequate; we need to find other and faster ways of stopping the institutional bonfire that is taking place.

Greens have jointed with other forces of the left in the Coalition of Resistance, which drew over 1400 people to a conference in Camden on 27th November (see http://www.coalitionofresistance.org.uk/2010/11/video-from-saturdays-coalition-of-resistance-conference/) . Trade unions, residents’ and health campaigns, and activists from several political parties came together to discuss how to stop the ConDems’ attack on the welfare state. Marches and occupations are becoming the order of the day and John McDonnell, MP drew applause when he suggested that the recent demonstrations to demand Vodafone pay their ‘excused’ tax bills of up to £6bn could be repeated for each of the worst 100 tax-avoiding companies.

Local Councils can play a key part in the resistance. Our Councillors need to be pushed by their workforce and by local residents to refuse to cut services. Thanks to a change in the law in 2000, they can no longer be surcharged as individuals for refusing to follow government directives on Council budgets. (See The Socialist, 18-24 November 2010, on http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/). As that article wisely argues, and as many activists said at the Coalition of Resistance conference, Councils can decide to spend more than the government ‘settlement’ permits, using their reserves and their borrowing powers to buy time and force central government to reconsider. Haringey for example has reserves of over £57 million – larger than the cuts they say they ‘have’ to make. But the reaction of the Coalition should not be under-estimated. The Tories abolished the GLC and other metropolitan councils for continually opposing what they did. Since the millennium, central government has acquired new powers to take over ‘failing councils’. Just as primary health care trusts (though never democratic and not particularly to be mourned!) are being abolished at the stroke of the Secretary of State’s pen, who knows what might happen to local government itself ? This is a struggle which will inevitably go beyond the everyday ‘democratic process’ because that process is itself liable to come under attack.


The danger is that ‘stop the cuts’ will become too vague and general a slogan unless we tell councillors clearly what we want. For a start, we can tell them:-

1) to avoid cuts by using Council reserves and by prudential borrowing. (We can also call upon all opposition forces to support a national position that 'if we are elected, we will work to eliminate debts incurred as a result of this borrowing')
2) to refuse to evict those in rent arrears because of Housing Benefit cuts and take appropriate action against other landlords who do so
3) not to reduce Council Tax Benefit if and when the ConDems’ new welfare proposals are enacted and permit this
4) to use their powers to 'call in' and refer local NHS re-organisation proposals, including GP commissioning consortia, foundation hospitals, cuts in important treatments, preventive services and hospital facilities
5) to reduce wasteful and/or ecologically damaging forms of spending; in short, to review use of energy and fuel, paper, advertising, and procurement generally. The important thing is to save jobs, and to invest in technologies which will create jobs and save the planet

Written by Anne Gray
Haringey Green Party

Thursday, 23 December 2010

Usual Pathetic Response to Snow at Heathrow

Well, I said that I wouldn’t be blogging for a month or so, but my travel plans have been severely disrupted by the snow at Heathrow Airport on Saturday. I was due to fly out on Sunday, 19 December, but am still here at home in London.

I should say, this being a green blog, that my addiction to flying has been considerably moderated in recent years, once I understood the effects of flying on climate change. But people shouldn’t avoid flying altogether, sometimes it is acceptable, to see loved ones etc. This trip was to celebrate 25 years with my partner, and had been planned for some time, and factored in with a fair amount of abstinence from flying over the last couple of years.

Anyway, we have now been rescheduled to fly from Heathrow on 27 December, a full eight days after our original booking. We had the offer of a bus to Paris and perhaps a flight from there, but my confidence that we wouldn’t be stuck there for days has been dented by the events of recent days.

Firstly, the airline, I won’t mention them particularly because I don’t think they have been any worse than other airline. On Sunday we couldn’t get any information at all from them on when we might fly. On Monday we got through to the telephone number we had been given, but no news. Tuesday was the offer of a bus ride to Paris and onward flight. Today, nothing new, except we noticed that they were still selling flights for 27 December, and enquired if we could be rescheduled for then? After much argument with the call centre, this was agreed, so hopefully we’ll be away then.

The travel agent seems to have closed down, because they never answer their phone. But I put the most blame for this fiasco on the airport authority at Heathrow. British Airports Authority (BAA) who own Heathrow, have been a complete shambles. The excuse is that we don’t get these weather conditions regularly in the UK, but it’s been this way for the last three winters.

The bad weather was forecast days in advance of Saturday, but no plans appear to have been put in place. Heathrow is still running below full capacity as I write on Wednesday night, but for two days hardly any aircraft moved in or out of the airport. Why they were able to get one runway working and not the other for two days is a mystery.

We had three inches of snow and the premier airport in the UK was completely shut down for days, and will take over a week to clear the backlog. Other countries manage perfectly well in these adverse weather conditions, but they put investment and planning into the operation, which BAA has clearly failed to do.

Perhaps a more pertinent example of how crap BAA has been is to compare it to Manchester Airport. Hardly any flights from Manchester have been cancelled, except those flying to an airport where they couldn’t land, like Heathrow. Manchester Airport is publically owned, by the local authority, and seems to have managed much better than the privatised, Spanish owned BAA. Manchester must have fall back equipment and plans that BAA just thought weren’t worth the investment, and would interfere with their main function, making profits.

This is like a microcosm of everything that happens in this country these days. The majority of the country is run by spivs, and everything about publicly owned services is derided as old fashioned and inefficient. Take a look at the fiasco at Heathrow and tell me how much better this is than a publically run airport like Manchester.

Photo from Sky News

Saturday, 18 December 2010

Happy Xmas to all our Readers


I will be travelling for the next month or so, and will not be posting for a while. Hopefully, my local party colleagues will post some stories in the meantime.
Happy Xmas and New Year.

Friday, 17 December 2010

Government Cuts Grants to Urban Local Authorities


The Coalition government has announced the level of grant funding to be given to local authorities in England for the next two financial years. You can see the full council by council list here courtesy of The Guardian newspaper.

The figures for ‘revenue spending power’ are the amount each council will receive minus a local authority’s other income, mainly council rents. The ‘formula grant’ figure is how much (compared to this year) councils will get in direct grant from the government. Why the figures have been presented this way, is an interesting question, and the cynics amongst you may well conclude this has done to muddy the water somewhat, where drastic cuts in grant are being imposed.

With Council Tax being virtually frozen over this period, cuts in local services are inevitable. What is striking from even a quick look through the figures, is that local authorities in urban (generally Labour voting) areas will be cut by much more than rural (Tory and Lib Dem voting areas). Indeed somewhere like Dorset for example, will get a small increase (0.25%) and others such as Wokingham, Richmond upon Thames and Buckinghamshire, all get a less than 1% reduction. This is quite clearly a political move, and does fit in with the ConDem government strategy of encouraging comfortable areas, where they expect to win votes, and poor areas which they do not give a damn about, as they know they will never vote for the ConDem government anyway.

And so, to our own fair borough of Haringey in north London. Haringey is a fairly typical inner city area, certainly for London, but also reminiscent of many urban boroughs in England. Haringey will receive 11.30% less grant in 2011/2012 than it did this year, which is calculated as reducing the council’s ‘revenue spending power’ by 7.9% over the same period. This is in line with most urban areas, and will mean that the council here and in similar areas will need to cut front line services, and with it jobs. Talk of efficiency savings and the like are nonsense, to make cuts this deep something has to be sacrificed, and it seems likely that adult care and childcare sectors will bear the main brunt, and those workers doing very important work, will lose their jobs.

Haringey council is the largest employer in the borough, which already has one of the highest levels of unemployment in the country, so a cut of maybe 1 in 8 in its workforce, will have a devastating affect on employment in the area and of course the services that are being provided by the council. Even before the scale of the cuts were announced, Haringey council leader Claire Kober is quoted in the Hornsey Journal as saying, “It is not possible to remove upwards of £50million from our budget without significant job losses.”

Moreover, the fact the bulk of the cuts are to be ‘front loaded’, that is, will come in the next financial year, means a sharp reduction in the services Haringey currently provides, and is guaranteed pretty much immediately. This will prolong the economic recession, because the private sector is in no shape to make up the difference in employment in the short term, if at all.

The short term prospects for jobs and local services is therefore pretty grim, unless the people can force a change in government policy, or better still, throw them out altogether and elect a more compassionate and less reckless alternative government.

Rise up people, and overturn their plan (thanks to Captain Ska for the inspirational line).

Thursday, 16 December 2010

Tuition Fees Protest Gives Inspiration to Resistance Campaign

video

This is a video of a speech by fifteen year old Barnaby to a Coalition of Resistance meeting in Camden, after the recent anti tuition fees protest. The Green party fully supports the Coalition Of Resistance, and co-sponsored the meeting.

He makes the point, that contemporary thinking is that young people are not interested in politics, but demonstrates that this is not case.

The student protests have lifted the whole anti cuts etc movement, and gives us something to build upon. Well done to the students, this is just the beginning of resistance to this disastrous government programme of ending the welfare state.

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

The University Tuition Fees Vote in Parliament

MP’s will vote in Parliament on Thursday 9th December on the ConDem coalition government proposals to raise university tuition fees from £3,000 to £9,000 per year, per student. This hike in tuition fees is bound to deter many people from taking up studies, at a time when work is scarce and we are constantly told that we need to have a high skilled economy and workforce, once the up turn does materialise.

The Green party would scrap these fees altogether, believing that higher education is a social good which benefits society as a whole, but the main political argument surrounding this issue has been the position adopted by the Lib Dems.

The Lib Dems campaigned against university tuition fees at this year’s general election, in quite explicit terms, with Nick Clegg their leader amongst them, even going as far as publicly signing a pledge to scrap the fees. Although reports have surfaced in the press that months before the election, the Lib Dem leadership had already decided to ditch this policy; so claims that this was a necessary compromise of coalition government is particularly dishonest, and quite frankly, shameful.

Students from wealthy backgrounds will be financially unaffected by this rise in fees, because their parents will cover the costs, and those from the poorest families will be exempt from paying, although the proposals will also end Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA) for 16 to 18 year olds from these backgrounds, which reduces their chances of going to university in the first place.

It is students in the lower to middle income category that will be most directly affected, with the prospect of starting out in working life with something like £40,000 to £50,000 in debt, which is a daunting enough thought for anyone.

Will Lib Dem MP’s back these proposals, given that only six months ago they were completely against tuition fees? Some of these MP’s have said they will vote against the proposals, but the twenty that are government ministers have said they will vote in favour, and this should be enough with most Tory MP’s sure to vote in favour for the proposals to get a majority in the House of Commons, sadly. But, the arithmetic is pretty tight so it will be interesting to see the result on Thursday.

I think if the proposals are passed, it will be extremely damaging to the Lib Dem party, and this might just convince enough of their MP’s that they could save their own necks by voting against. The public at large, when politicians make explicit pledges to do something or not do something, then do the complete opposite when the votes are bagged, tend to punish these same politicians at the next electoral opportunity. Many unhappy voters will be students, and ex students, who thought they were voting against tuition fees, votes the Lib Dems can ill afford to lose. And quite right too, politicians bending the truth is one thing, telling barefaced lies, is quite another.

Photo from the NewStatesman