Wednesday, 21 July 2010

No cuts! Lobby Lambeth council's cabinet, 26 July

A hundred people lobbied against cuts in Children and Young People's Services in Lambeth on 19 July. A report is included below. Next week, we need an even bigger protest: join trade unionists, service-users and community activists protesting to the council's cabinet against their plans for cuts in services and jobs!

6.30pm, Monday 26 July
Lambeth Town Hall, Brixton (bottom of Acre Lane, a few minutes from Brixton tube)

A hundred workers, council tenants, parents, service-users and pensioners protested outside Lambeth council's 'Children and Young People's Scrutiny Committee', at very short notice, on 19 July. (Children and Young People's Services are the sharp end of the Labour council's cuts program, set to lose £20 million over two years.) About seventy went in to the Town Hall and gave the committee - who are obviously not used to being scrutinised themselves! - a very hard time indeed.

The councillors' speeches were mostly meaningless blah designed to soften the stark outlines of the cuts they want to make. At the same time, as a good Blairite, CYPS cabinet member Peter Robbins could not resist a bit of anti-Tory rhetoric, attacking the government's cuts, its academies program and its use of anti-terror legislation to rush it through. As soon as questions from the floor began, Lambeth UNISON assistant branch secretaries Dan Jeffery and Ruth Cashman spoke, blasting the councillors out of the water and pointing out their hypocrisy.

* Academies and the anti-terror legislation being used to rush them through were, of course, pioneered by New Labour. Robbins' appeal to the Blairite line that New Labour's academies program benefited working-class children was met with hoots and derision from the audience.

* More importantly, Lambeth council is pushing through cuts, privatisation and anti-working class measures independently of the Tory cuts, and was doing so long before the election. The council's chief executive is on £250,000, at the head of a huge network of overpaid senior officers; many millions are being spent on consultants whose basic job is to bash the unions and push through cuts, some of whom (eg the interim Director for Housing, Regeneration and the Environment) are on as much as £1,000 a day. The ALMO they set up to run housing, Lambeth Living, is privatising vital services including emergency repairs, concierges and estate cleaning - with the blessing of the council and against the wishes of tenants, including the Tenants' Council. They are also about to agree a ten year, £1 billion contract with private companies to do housing repairs.

Some of these measures do not even pretend to save money. All the workers (but none of the senior managers) in the borough's One O' Clock Clubs are being sacked and forced to reapply if they want new jobs. This will save no money whatsoever: what it will do is disrupt a much valued service for young children, but also remove an inconvenient nest of trade union strength, where density is almost 100 percent, paving the way for cuts later.

The councillors claimed that they could not comment on the One O'Clock Clubs, since consultation is under way. A number of the many One O'Clock Club workers present pointed out that, in addition to the general stupidity of such a stance, the consultation is a sham, since measures to fundamentally restructure the service are already underway, whatever the results of the "consultation". The councillors received so much hostility on this issue that they eventually refused to accept any more questions!

Interestingly, Peter Robbins insisted three times: "I cannot set an unbalanced budget". Interestingly, because this is exactly what he and the other Labour councillors can and should do. It is the only alternative to implementing Tory cuts. They do not want to because they are cowards and because most of them probably have their eyes on future careers in the Labour Party.

In the period ahead, every Labour councillor will have to choose between 'respectable' collaboration with the Tories and the interests of the working-class communities they claim to represent. In the case of Lambeth, the council's record suggests they will not choose the latter unless subjected to unbearable pressure from below. Let's build that pressure!

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