Public sector workers in Cornwall were devastated today by the news that the Unitary Council has passed the ’emergency’ budget which will cut the council workforce by over 2,000, despite intense opposition from local people and MK/Lib Dem councillors.
Tory and Independent councillors voted decided to cut local investment by £170m over the next few years with less than 10 minutes of debate and forcing through 7 sections in one block vote. The result will be huge cuts to adult care, libraries, leisure centres, youth centres and jobs. The council coalition voted on almost every amendment over the course of the day with slavish party-line obedience – with Independent councillors voting the same way as the Tories on practically every proposal, leading many to think they misled the electorate (much like the Lib Dems in Westminster) by standing for local office as ‘independent’ when in fact effectively standing as a Conservative.
Most shockingly, the majority of the day’s debate was spent bickering over licenses for lap-dancing clubs in Newquay and the ‘sex shop’ in Truro – both of which are trivial when compared to the scale of council spending cuts.
Also shocking was the fact that the public gallery was initially full during most of the day, yet by the time the final vote on the overall budget came there were fewer than a dozen watching the chamber.
But by far the most disgraceful part of the full meeting was that all 7 sections of the final recommendations to the chamber – i.e. the vote on the budget itself – was pushed through in one vote so the councillors could go home early. I make no exaggeration when I write that. Under pressure from members who had to ‘go home to their families’, the vote was forced through in one motion.
Even an amendment, tabled by Mebyon Kernow councillor Dick Cole, to investigate the effects of the cuts on lower-income workers was rejected – by one vote.
The only amendment that actually passed was forwarded by Truro Tory Fiona Fergusson, who asked for a Cornwall sports programme to be excluded from the spending review. It is tempting to say it only passed because she is a Conservative, and though the amendment can perhaps be welcomed, it is sickening that a local council with over £120m in reserves and £30m in savings chose to save only one proposed program, despite proposed amendments which asked for sea pools in Bude and Penzance to be spared. Over 6,000 signatures had been collected to rescue the Bude sea-pool, an amount which was patronisingly and fallaciously used to support a Conservative’s claim that ‘local people are embracing the big society’. No, they are asking for you not to abandon a cherished public asset.
Around three of us had been there since 8am, and remained until half 4pm. So it was thoroughly demoralising to see the budget passed with so little discussion, so little consultation, so little truly independent thinking.
Though the protest gathered some support in the morning, with GMB and Unison workers coming together with students and Labour members, it wasn’t enough to turn the vote.
We will fight on. The TUC demo in March next year will see hundreds of thousands taking to the streets in opposition to the cuts. Though this is welcome, it is too late, and we need to continue pressuring representatives in any way possible to oppose the cuts and to switch the burden of responsibility from innocent people to the bankers who caused the financial crisis.
More info on the amendments of the day can be found here.