By DAVID WHITE
The campaign against cuts by Croydon Council has stepped up a gear after members of the three largest unions representing council workers in the borough – Unite, Unison and GMB – yesterday held a demonstration outside the council offices at Bernard Weatherill House.
Anyone passing by at lunchtime yesterday will have seen banners reading “Stop the Council Cuts” and “Save Our Jobs”. The demonstrators – appropriately united and in unison – were shouting “No ifs! No buts! No more council cuts!”
Clare Keogh, Unite’s regional officer, and Yvonne Green, Unison’s branch secretary, were among the organisers. There were also representatives of the Croydon Trades Union Council and super-campaigner Paula Peters of Disabled People Against the Cuts.
It is hardly surprising that there are protests, as cuts affect virtually all council services, from libraries to leisure centres and from graffiti removal to parks. Close to 500 council staff have been made redundant since the start of 2020 and vacancies left unfilled. The result, as Inside Croydon has shown, is that the council is barely functioning at many levels.
Some of the most serious cuts affect the poorest in the borough.
The proposed cuts to Council Tax Support, for example, will mean less money in the pockets of many of those who have least. This is at a time when inflation and the reduction in Universal Credit payments are already hitting hard.
Will yesterday’s demonstration change anything? On its own, the answer must be “No”. The council is in an impossible position – trying to minimise cuts while at the same time balancing its budget, which it has to do by law. Ultimately, if there isn’t a balanced budget the council could lose control altogether and commissioners will be called in by the government.
Some are already saying this might be the least bad option, as at the moment Labour councils like Croydon are taking the stick for a situation which is primarily caused by the Tory government’s austerity policy. Government grant to Croydon has been cut by more than 70 per cent since 2010.
This is not to ignore the previous council leadership’s own contribution to the crisis through financial mismanagement.
In my view, what is needed is a massive public campaign to demand fair funding of councils by the government. This should be on the same level as the campaign by Ken Livingstone and the Greater London Council in the 1980s for “Fair fares” on London Transport.
Such a campaign needs to involve the public, community groups, trade unions and, just as importantly, councillors themselves.
- Veteran campaigner David White is a former elected member of the GLC and long-time official in Croydon Central Constituency Labour Party
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