Paying more for worse services

March 20, 2017

This is a letter to the Swindon Advertiser

Paying more for worse services

I’ve just received my council tax notice with a 10.9% increase for 2017/18. As Mr Renard finally admitted in his column residents are paying more for less. These very high increases are the result of the flagrantly anti-democratic imposition of parishes on residents who patently did not want them. Even if it is legal for the council to charge us for services which they no longer provide it is politically and morally repugnant, and it certainly ought to be illegal.

This policy chimes well with central government’s gutting of public services. The decision to impose parishes has the impact of moving away from the concept of equalisation of services across the town regardless of the poverty or wealth of individual areas. What Mr Renard is presenting as ‘choice’ is bogus. If services are not provided by taxation at the town level then you can only chose what you can afford. His regime’s action will exacerbate inequalities across the town. Read the rest of this entry »


The local government funding crisis and how to resolve it

November 11, 2016

With the election of Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader for the second time we have been told that this has consolidated Labour as the “anti-austerity party”. Whilst this is certainly the aspiration of Jeremy and his supporters Labour can only be judged on what it does not just what it says. The election of a left wing leader cannot transform the Labour Party in and of itself. Many of the old guard whose politics are rooted in those of New Labour are still entrenched. After the Parliamentary Party Labour councillors were the section of the party where support for Corbyn was at its lowest and resistance to a break from the politics of New Labour at its highest. Labour in office in local government is anything but an anti-austerity party. Nationally Labour has, as yet, made no attempt to build a movement against the government’s austerity programme. It has not even attempted to assemble its local authorities to discuss organising resistance to central government’s assault on local government. Each authority is therefore left to its own devices to attempt at best to manoeuvre in the face of unprecedented cuts or at worst to simply administer them without question. We therefore see the spectacle of Labour authorities cutting services, closing Libraries, outsourcing leisure services, and in some areas attacking the wages and conditions of staff. In Derby and Durham they are cutting the wages of low paid teaching assistants, precipitating strike action by a group workers who have no history of militancy. In Durham a Labour council is proposing to issue redundancy notices aimed at forcing staff to sign up to new contracts which involve as much as a 23% cut in wages1. (Read on below or download a PDF here localgovfundingcrisis ) Read the rest of this entry »

The surplus and the parishes

July 1, 2016

Some while ago I suggested to Swindon’s Cabinet that they should be pressing the government to abandon their target for a £10 billion surplus by 2020. As I pointed out to them if the target was break-even then the £6 billion of cuts to local government would not be necessary. They wouldn’t even have to abandon their support for ‘austerity’.

The anti-democratic parishes proposal was premised on acceptance of the level of cuts from central government, based on the surplus proposal. Yesterday, Theresa May, one of the candidates in the Tory leadership election indicated that this surplus target, described by the Financial Times as ‘extreme’ and unnecessary, said it should be abandoned. Today the Chancellor has dumped it, citing the dangers of a recession and the economic shock following the vote to leave the European Union.

We can argue over whether the ‘austerity’ programme was necessary in the first place (obviously I don’t think it was) but this announcement provides an open door for Swindon Council to press for an end to the £6 billion cuts to local government. If the surplus has been abandoned then there is no need for this scale of cuts.

If the Tory administration does not recognise the significance and consequence of this announcement, and simply proceeds with its plans then it will be doing so for ideological reasons. Of course, we do not know to what extent the budget plans of a new government will differ from Osborne’s but the abandonment of the aim of a £10 billion surplus by 2020, at the very least offers the possibility of a scaling back of local government cuts.

There is nothing to stop the administration supporting such a move and pressing their MPs to do likewise. To proceed with their parishes proposal as if nothing had changed would reinforce the widespread feeling of the local population that they are contemptuous of the opinion of local people.

This is a letter to the Swindon Advertiser

Swindon Council cuts – there is a choice

March 23, 2016

Article after article by David Renard drives home the message that Swindon Borough Council ‘has no choice’. It has to outsource leisure facilities, close Children’s Centres, transfer services to parishes and abandon funding libraries save for the central one. How does this assertion look in the light of Ian Duncan Smith’s resignation and the rapid withdrawal of the proposed £4.36 billion cuts to Personal Independence Payments? What it surely shows is that the government can be made to retreat in the face of large scale opposition, including in the Conservative Party itself. Twenty Conservative MPs had written to the government opposing this outrageous attack on the disabled. The government knew it was unlikely to get a majority for this proposal through the House of Commons, especially when as Duncan Smith had pointed out it sat somewhat uneasily with tax cuts for better off and the rich. How could they say “we’re all in it together” when they do this, he asked.

IDS is not, of course, opposed to austerity per se but has challenged the way that it is being implemented. If he can challenge the government then why can’t David Renard and Swindon’s Conservative Group follow suit? IDS said exactly what I told Swindon’s Cabinet at one of its open forums, that their “fiscal self-imposed restraints” (the £10 billion surplus) are “more and more perceived as distinctly political rather than in the national economic interest”.

According to the Financial Times IDS’s “central concern” is that

…the Chancellor’s commitment to running a fiscal surplus is a self-imposed political decision that it would not be in the national economic interest to deliver at any cost. This accusation is difficult to refute.”

The FT had previously denounced this surplus target as unnecessary and “extreme”.

If the rapid withdrawal of the tax credit proposals last year, and the PIP cuts now, was possible as a result of the government being put under pressure, then why not mobilise pressure against the £6 billion cuts which are being imposed on local government and causing such damage? As I pointed out to the Cabinet if the Chancellor’s target was break-even rather than the £10 billion surplus then the local government cuts would not be necessary. None of the measures which Swindon’s ruling group is proposing would be necessary.

If the opposition within the Tory Party to PIP cuts does not give Swindon’s Tory administration the courage to abandon its supine position then what will? Do they really want to go down in history as ‘the wreckers’, in the words of the Swindon Advertiser Editorial? Did they really enter local government in order to destroy services? Why should they cause all this damage to the town’s social infrastructure in defence of a government strategy which even one of its central figures has now challenged together with others in their Party? Isn’t it time that this administrative put the interests of local people before Party loyalty to a programme which is rapidly unravelling and has been shown to have failed?

Martin Wicks

March 23rd 2016

Swindon Council to ’empower’ local people by denying them power to decide on parishes

November 13, 2015

At the Council meeting yesterday I asked a couple of questions on the Community Governance Review which will consider whether to introduce parishes into all the non-parishes areas of the town.

Question 1: “Will the administration make a commitment that no area of the town, which currently does not have a parish, will have one imposed on them without their residents being able to vote for or against the creation of a new parish?”

Answer : “Thank you for your question. The law makes no provision for holding such a referendum. If Full Council resolves to undertake a Community Governance review tonight, then the local authority will follow the process set down by law and government guidance.”

It may be true that ‘the law’ under which a Community Governance Review takes place says nothing about a referendum. Yet there is nothing to stop the Council organising a ballot of the non-parished areas, either together or singularly. The fact is that they do not want to commit to one because they fear that they would lose it. Read the rest of this entry »

Not so much a ‘vision’, more a nightmare

October 21, 2015

This is a guest post by a Swindon Council employee who has been given a ‘vision’…

A couple of weeks ago I went to an event for all SBC employees.  It was called On Track To A Vision For Swindon.  It was designed to present the ‘vision’ of the leader of the council, as represented in 4 ‘priorities’ and exemplified in 30 ‘pledges’.  Staff were being asked to think about what their contribution to the vision would be.

The event took place at STEAM.  Each pledge was set up in the form of a custom-made stand and they all lined both sides of a walkway, the floor of which was designed to look like a piece of railway track.  The staff involved in creating and staffing the event wore orange t-shirts with logos specific to the event and there were several tables with orange gazebos above them.  I can only imagine this was in order to create a feeling of coherence about the whole vision thing.  I describe it in detail because of my amazement at what must have been spent on it at a time when we are being told to reduce the cost of virtually everything. Read the rest of this entry »

Council Tax payers should decide

September 28, 2015

This is a letter to the Swindon Advertiser.

Here’s your starter for ten points. What is the relationship between the government’s spending review due later this year and the news that the Conservative administration wants to expand the parish council ‘model’? Could it be that they are keen to lessen the flak they will come under when implementing another round of swingeing cuts? Why not pass the buck to parishes? This will give the parishes the opportunity to implement their own cuts rather than all the blame being heaped on the SBC administration.

Economically it makes no sense. Providing services at the Borough level allows economies of scale which cannot operate at the parish level. Moreover, parishes are unlikely be able to sustain services for long. In the same issue of the Advertiser as the article on this proposal we read of a parish unable to even afford to aerate a local pond with the Environment Agency pulling out. Read the rest of this entry »

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