11 Feb 2011

Stroud Budget: demonstrator dragged from chamber

Well this last evening was the Budget at Stroud District Council. As councillors arrived we were met by demonstrators against the cuts - all councillors had also received a letter earlier in the week.

There is a welcomed resistance to just accepting these cuts - over 500 people marched at the end of last month (see SNJ cover left) - and my film of that has had over an astonishing 600 views - see:

So for this blog, first the protestor, then the two failed Green amendments to the budget - for the record I did vote against the budget.

I can't cover all that went on on this blog as I'm too tired and a busy day tomorrow - but at several points during the debate a protester shouted disagreement at Conservative councillors who were first saying there was no alternative to the cuts and then trying to suggest we shouldn't look at the bigger picture of issues like energy security.....well the protestor ended up being dragged from the chamber on his back after saying he didn't want the budget accepted. It was great that councillors heard the anger that is out there amongst many people. - from some of the responses by councillors there seemed to be little understanding about how cuts will impact on poorer people and our communities.

Reserves or borrowing to be spent on generating an income

Well Greens tried to get the following amendment accepted.

Amendment to 4(c) para (c): To approve the medium Term Financial Plan as set out in the revised Appendix A including the budget proposals of the Administration in the supplementary papers - add: and make available an additional £660,000 through reduction of reserves (or prudent borrowing) to enable the 2012/13 to 2032/33 general fund revenue budget to benefit by approximately £46,200 per year (inflation linked) while also reducing fuel poverty and stimulating local employment in line with the renewable energy investment opportunities report presented to cabinet in January 2011.

Martin Whiteside gave an excellent introduction in his proposal outlining the many benefits including the economic. I was surprised by some councillors negative responses although welcomed that Cabinet members hinted at not now but possibly later. We had spoken with Officers before making the proposal yet there was much talk about it not being wise. To me it is not wise not to act now.

I seconded the amendment and I summed up making several points including:
  • Ofgem notes: “Britain faces unprecedented challenges to its energy security”.
  • Lloyds of London have said we could face $200 a barrel of oil by 2013.
  • Fuel poverty is rising.
  • Our climate is changing.
  • We need to build on the excellent work this Council has already done on renewables.
  • There are reserves that are making as little as 1%.
  • Borrowing this amount is small compared to the estimated £96m the Council plans to borrow to self finance our housing stock.
  • If the Government caps borrowing then surely this relatively small amount will be welcomed as it is generating an income, jobs, tackling fuel poverty and climate change. Isn't localism meant to be about us deciding what we want?
  • Acting now means we can take advantage of feed-in tariffs and returns on investment of around 8% - leaving it means we may well miss out as they may stop in April 2012.
I also noted to some laughter that we could do no better than look at teh election leaflet of the cabinet member for finance who wrote: "I am particularly interested in renewable energy....We all know that money is tight - but we shouldn't lose sight of our environmental obligations. In fact there are good ways where being green can save councils money! At the District Council we actually deliver on our green policies."

I asked if we could now show that we mean it by accepting the amendment. It got voted down.

Call for an alternative approach by Government

Sarah Lunnon put forward a second amendment that called on the Council to take a different approach. Again I was surprised by the responses from the other side of the chamber. There seemed to be even anger that people could suggest an alternative to cuts. Surely they should welcome hearing such views? It is not as if there aren't a growing number of economists saying these cuts are not the right approach.

Anyway it got voted down as well despite Labour councillors supporting it. My speech is reprinted below with a few changes I made on the evening. The amendment was very detailed and did spell out many of the ways the Government could move forward without these cuts. Click on coalition cuts above to see a more comprehensive list.

Budget amendment response

It is disappointing that some councillors in the chamber appear to be unwilling to hear alternatives to cutting public services.

This Council has written this budget with it’s hands tied behind it’s back – and I have to say it is not a bad job for having your hands tied.

But things could be so different. We could be ensuring a better deal for poorer people and for older people. We could be investing properly in tackling growing fuel poverty and climate change.

I hugely welcome the measures in this budget for renewables but as noted they don't go far enough - and I am disappointed that the earlier amendment fell – although I hold out hopes that that it will still be possible later in the year.

As we know, fuel poverty is defined as having to spend 10% or more of your income on keeping your home at a decent temperature – it now effects an astonishing 18% of the UK’s population. This is just wrong. Plain wrong.

I cannot support this Budget as it is written. Despite the words of some councillors this evening our hands need not have been tied in the first place - these cuts are not necessary. Yes we need to tackle the deficit - and yes we need to start living within our financial means – but we also need to live within the ecological limits of our planet.

The response of cuts and austerity measures is an ideological choice. This amendment gives a framework for an alternative approach. It is not about deficit denying but rather a positive and constructive viewpoint on managing the country’s financial and other problems.

Surely it is fairer that the wealthiest people in society pay a fairer share? Surely it is right we should crack down on tax avoidance and tax evasion - saving billions every year. The Government estimate £40bn in tax avoidance and evasion - but Tax Research UK estimates it is at least £120 bn – whatever it is, it would go a huge way to tackling the deficit. Yet rather than employing more people to ensure this tax is paid, the Coalition has announced a 15% cut to the HMRC, resulting in plans to cut 25,000 jobs by 2011.

And as we know up and down the country an estimated 500,000 public service jobs are going - this will only exacerbate the deficit crisis – more people will be unemployed and there will be less revenue.

We need to reduce the deficit more slowly, and avoid these savage cuts. And in the process we need to switch funds from high-carbon to carbon-reduction spending.

This amendment sets out a way forward that is based on fairness and sustainability.

Public spending is an investment, not a debt. And now more than ever we need to invest in our future.


Anonymous said...

An open letter signed by 88 local Lib Dem heads, including 17 town hall leaders, warned that the cuts would damage the economy and hit the most vulnerable.They accused Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles of "letting down" users of council services and refusing to work with councillors.

"These cuts will have an undoubted impact on all frontline council services, including care services to the vulnerable," they said in the letter, published in The Times.

"Rather than assist the country's recovery by making savings to the public in a way that can protect local economies and the front line, the cuts are structured in such a way that they will do the opposite."

Philip Booth said...

Just seen The Citizen and a comment by James Beecher who was ejected from the chamber:

It's true. I did interject and I was ejected. I hadn't planned to, but I - perhaps naively - believed that the conservative administration councillors would be standing up for the people who elected them, rather than simply defending their party in central government.

They claimed to have written a "robust" letter regarding the huge cuts in central government funding they are having to face, but from what they said in the chamber last night it appeared that rather than standing up against central government they were rolling over (and hoping to have their bellies tickled, no doubt).

Other conservative and lib dem administrations (faced with less severe cuts) have been happy to criticise central government:

The conservative leader of South Oxfordshire County Council, the Lib Dem leader of Newcastle council and the leader of Blackpool council were all featured on a Newnsight programme on Tuesday night attacking the government cuts.

Meanwhile in Stroud, District Councillors seem more concerned with putting money into reserves and repeating central government ideology than they are with representing the interests and needs of the people of stroud.

I might be a little bit embarrassed of my actions, but they should be incredibly ashamed of theirs.
James Beecher, Stroud

See Citizen here:

Philip Booth said...

About 1.6m children in the UK are living in severe poverty, Save the Children says. The charity, which found the highest levels of child poverty in Manchester and Tower Hamlets, in London, said the figure was a "national scandal". Wales had the highest proportion of children living in severe poverty (14%), followed by England (13%) then Scotland and Northern Ireland (9% each). 29 authorities across the UK had more than one in five children living in severe poverty.