The coalition of City Independents and Tories now running Stoke-on-Trent City Council plan to do what Labour refused to do during all the years they have previously been in control!
The coalition are using £15.5 million of reserves to stop further cuts in 2016/17 instead of carrying on with Labour’s cuts which have totalled £150 million since 2011. They are doing what Labour leader Mohammed Pervez and numerous Labour councillors have told Stoke Socialist Party and Trade Unionist & Socialist Coalition election candidates every year – that it’s not possible to use reserves to stave off cuts!
Tory deputy council leader Abi Brown says, “By using our reserves next year, it will give ourselves a bit of time to do things properly. The government has been quite clear in saying that councils can use their reserves as opposed to slashing services.” (Sentinel 14/12/2015)
If Tories and the City Independents can use reserves then never again should Labour councillors be allowed to get away with saying ‘we have to carry out cuts, we have no choice’. Council tax bills are also set to be frozen.
But, whilst using reserves to stop further cuts in 2016/17 is a step forward and will be welcomed by a majority of people across the city, on it’s own it will not stop the Tory’s remorseless drive to reduce year on year the amount of money they provide to local councils.
Neither should we mistake what is meant by the City Independent/Tory council statement that using reserves will “give ourselves a bit of time to do things properly”. This effectively means ‘balancing the books’ by carrying out cuts at a later stage.
Using reserves to stave off immediate cuts is a policy which the Socialist Party has consistently campaigned for over many years and therefore we see it as a step forward in providing at least a temporary respite to the endless cuts suffered by working class people in the city.
But we have also consistently argued that any ‘breathing space’ provided by the use of reserves should be used to build a serious campaign to demand that the government provides sufficient funds to ensure that our jobs and services can be maintained and improved. In other words a people’s budget based on the needs of the 250,000 people who live in our city.
We do not expect that the present Tory/City Independent run city council will do this but Labour councillors (still the largest single party) should put forward an alternative budget for 2016/2017 which includes the use of reserves to ensure no cuts are carried out but also includes the launch of a campaign that works with the city’s residents to agree a people’s budget based on our needs and financed by the government.