Swansea Council's Bloodbath Budget. Councillors - what side are you on?

8th December 2013

Which side are you on? That is the question that should be asked of every Labour councillor in Swansea as they prepare to vote on whether to butcher £45 millions' worth of jobs and services. Any Labour councillor who votes for these cuts is lining up on the side of the Con-Dems and implementing their attacks on working class people.

As I sat in my UNISON stewards’ meeting, listening to a long list of cuts proposals, discussed by the Labour Cabinet and outlined to union officers, I felt myself first getting down, then angry and finally determined that this has to be where we draw a line in the sand and say, "no more cuts!"

These proposals will take the number of job losses to around 1,200 since Con-Dem austerity began, with nearly another 700 to go on top of the around 500 they’ve already cut. Councillors say that they want to minimise compulsory redundancies but accept many of the likely volunteers have already gone in previous rounds of redundancies. Avoiding compulsory redundancies is going to be incompatible with the level of cuts they intend to make.

In addition to these job cuts, they also propose axing, selling or reducing a whole range of services, including the following (a full list would run to several pages):

  • Outsourcing large parts of social services, including residential care, day care services, respite care and cutting massively spending on transport and scrapping the community meals service.
  • Handing over remaining council-run leisure services to other providers, as well as parks, with bowls clubs being forced to take over maintenance and upkeep of greens if they want to keep them. 
  • They will also look to transfer community centres and the costs of upkeep “to communities”. A trust for culture will be set up, preparing the way for future outsourcing of cultural resources. Pennard Library is to close.
  • Shutting or selling/offloading Plantasia, an educational centre and tourist attraction, showcasing plants from different climate zones around the world. There’s no word on what the Council intends to do with the various exotic animals housed there if it were to shut.
  • The Cabinet is also prepared to take, what to me as a parent, are unacceptable risks with the youngest school pupils’ safety by scrapping the crossing patrols outside schools where there are lights-controlled crossings, regardless of how busy or dangerous the roads are. Parents value the lollipop men and women who keep our children safe.
  • Increasing charges for school meals.
  • Closing public toilets or handing them over to another provider if one can be found that thinks they can make a profit through charges for spending a penny.
  • Stop cleaning and upkeep of bus shelters.

Defending these and other ideas, such as selling the Civic Centre, in the local newspaper, one Cabinet member showed a fluency in Orwellian double-speak that would put many Tory ministers to shame. “We are standing up for Swansea by investing in our priorities and frontline services that matter to people”, cabinet member for Finance, Rob Stewart, is quoted as saying in the Evening Post.

Some union members think the council should increase council tax to reduce attacks on union members’ jobs and conditions but Socialist Party members can’t agree. An increase in council tax is a cut in the living standards of ordinary people, including our members, many of whom are low paid council workers. In any case, given the scale of cuts the Council is looking to make, even a big hike in council tax will only put a small dent in the cull of jobs and services being proposed and union support for council tax rises sends the wrong message by opposing our members’ interests to other council tax payers when we want to unite them. 

Stewards passed a resolution opposing the cuts and committing to balloting for strike action to resist any announcement of compulsory redundancies. This is a vital part of preparing the fight back, which will need to unite council workers with users of services in opposition to all cuts. 

It should be made clear also that any Labour councilor who votes for these proposals in the budget meeting in February will put themselves on the opposite side to anti-cuts campaigners, council trade unionists and anybody in Swansea that values council services. We need to be prepared put up our own anti-cuts candidates in future elections against Labour councilors who carry out Con-Dem cuts.

Please also read the statement from Socialist Party Wales members in UNISON on fighting council cuts.

Ronnie Job, UNISON steward (personal capacity)
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