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Kirklees: Council proposes worst cuts in living memory
Mike Forster, Kirklees Unison (personal capacity)
Last week, the Labour Cabinet in Kirklees introduced a cuts package of £70 million for so-called public consultation. In reality it will be asking the public to choose how they want to slash services off the budget.
The council leader has asked the public to 'think the unthinkable' and went on to say that services 'we have taken for granted for 100 years may have to go'. He told the press that he could be riding his motor bike round Europe but has chosen instead to face up to hard choices and introduce an austerity budget that even the Tories have criticised!
These cuts include:
- The closure of all libraries apart from two or four; we get to choose!
- Axing three museums
- Asking parents to pay for their special needs children to be escorted to school
- Closing two of the markets
- Removing funding for public parks
- Reducing bin collections and street cleansing
The list goes on ... and council staff have been told that 1,400 compulsory redundancies are also wanted. Departments have been warned to expect job cuts, closures or privatisation. These are the worst cuts in living memory.
In addition, they want to impose new staff conditions to pave the way for mass redundancies.
Unison has resisted all compulsory redundancies and has so far held them at bay. However, another part of the proposals is to slash redundancy pay, reduce the time staff have on deployment, and to use sickness absence as a way of choosing those for the chop. The unions quite rightly have said no, so the council then insisted it would send out dismissal letters to ALL staff and would re-engage them on their new terms. Its plan was to send out the notices in September!
Our union, Unison, which is the largest in Kirklees local authority, had no choice but to ballot the members once again - but over the summer period.
This meant a huge effort during the traditionally quiet holiday time to get to all the members. Special workplace meetings were held and letters were sent to home addresses, urging everyone to vote in the ballot and to vote no to the council. Coming hot on the heels of the 14th July strike, this was a big 'ask', but members have been incensed by the council's disgraceful proposals.
In the middle of August, the ballot result confirmed that 73% were ready to strike on a turnout of just under 30%. This was a clear message and not one the council has expected.
It now appears that the council has backed off from its redundancy proposal in the latest talks and has asked for more negotiations. Round One has been won which is vital in the huge task that now confronts the wider community in holding off the cuts.
On campaign stalls, people are rightly incensed and can hardly believe that a Labour council could treat services and its workforce in this way.
The latest figures show that it is in fact cash rich! Last year, it underspent by £12 million; it has balances (unspent earmarked money) of £44 million and reserves of £89 million. The Cabinet could impose all its cuts and still have over £70 million left in its back pocket!
"So why have a Labour council?" people are demanding to know, if this is what it does! TUSC (Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition) has swung into action with a public meeting in a few weeks' time and already five meetings to defend libraries have taken place.
There will be a huge swell of anger as the realisation of the details of these cuts becomes public knowledge. Together with a defiant mood of union opposition, the Labour leader may well wish he had stayed on his bike!
This version of this article was first posted on the Socialist Party website on 1 September 2014 and may vary slightly from the version subsequently printed in The Socialist.