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No More Austerity placard

No More Austerity placard. Photo: Jim Aindow

Local councils should be standing up to the Tories, not making their workers and most vulnerable constituents pay, writes Jamal Elaheebocus

Two weeks after Croydon Council issued section 114, effectively declaring itself bankrupt, the predictable but devastating job losses have been announced.

The council has created a “legal bare minimum” plan, which the council says will help fill the £67 million hole in the budget, while keeping essential services running. The council has also approached the government about receiving a £134 million loan to allow the council to stay afloat while it develops its three-year-plan to get the council out of debt and back in a sustainable position.

This is hardly an unreasonable demand from a council which needs to continue to support the large numbers of families in poverty; 30% of children are living in poverty in Croydon. Considering the £16 billion that has gone to defence this week and the billions of pounds the council has been starved of due to austerity, £134 million should easily be given.

However, the council has already started a ruthless second wave of sackings. In August, 400 people lost their jobs and more than 100 further job losses could be announced.

The council has already been shown to have failed their workers, with a staff survey revealing “palpable anger and vitriol towards senior management”, as well as allegations of racism and discrimination. Staff have also said that there is a “fearful” culture, stopping staff from speaking out.

Yvonne Green, the secretary of the Croydon branch of Unison, said,

“Staff are very, very angry and feel let down, it is also the cost to the residents” and that many staff are “approaching Christmas not knowing whether they’ve got a job.”

Unite has warned that “workers at Croydon council must not be used as scapegoats”.

While workers' jobs were cut in August, the former leader of the council, Tony Newman, was receiving £53,000 per year in council allowances.

The plan set out by Croydon Council is not only going to devastate workers but also local people. The Council has said that some of the borough’s libraries and children’s centres will closed, alongside leisure centres and recycling centres.

The welfare benefits advice team has seen a 300% increase in demand in recent months and yet is also facing being cut. Funding for transport to nursery for children with special needs could stop and case loads for social workers will increase.

Workers from Croydon Council have already been organising and resisting the job cuts. Unison, Unite and GMB members held a demonstration outside the council in August.

The situation has exposed the fact that Labour has failed to stand up to the government, locally as well as nationally. Croydon’s Labour-run council has axed over 400 jobs and has created fear about speaking out. Earlier this year, the Labour-run Tower Hamlets council was similarly ruthless, threatening to fire workers and rehire them on worse contracts.

These councils are setting precedents for other councils around the country. Several other councils have warned that they too may face the same fate as Croydon. Only a fifth of the authorities in the County Councils Network, which is a group of 36 mostly Tory-controlled councils, said that they were confident they could set a balanced budget and avoid bankruptcy next year. Over 60% expected to make a “fundamental reduction” in frontline services.

The government said in the spending review on Wednesday that councils would receive an extra 4.5% of core spending power but also said this could only happen if council tax increases by 5%, putting extra strain on the poorest in society.

The Tories are making it clear that they are happy to let the poorest in society pay for their crisis. And they will be able to get away with it unless they are faced with resistance. Andy Burnham showed just how possible and necessary it is for local government to stand up to the Tories and demand more.

It is unjustifiable that frontline services in local areas will be cut and thousands of council workers will lose their jobs in the middle of a pandemic. This is a Tory-made crisis and they need to forced to take the responsibility for it.

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