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Local government union backs no-cuts council budgets
The trade union representing the majority of local government workers today called on councils not to implement the latest round of cuts to jobs and services.
The vote on Unison's local government service group executive (SGE) called on councils to use their reserves and prudential borrowing powers to plug the gap left by cuts in funding from central government.
This follows a similar vote by local government workers organised in general union Unite. Supporters of the no-cuts position see this as a temporary measure to buy time while councils build up a mass campaign to win back funding from central government to fund public services.
The move by local government unions in favour of legal no-cuts budgets comes at a time when councils are facing huge cuts in funding from central government. This year alone the cut amounts to 37% while cuts amounting to 75% are in store by 2018.
Socialist Party member Mike Forster, a member of the local government SGE from Yorkshire, moved the proposal. He said of the decision:
"This was the most serious debate of our meeting, as the executive weighed up the huge crisis facing local government workers and services.
"We need now to approach the leadership of the Labour Party, together with Unite, to demand that they join Britain's two largest public sector unions in resisting these cuts all the way."
The motion passed at the SGE:
This SGE notes that
- English councils control £114 billion
- The combined budgets of the 58 Labour-led councils standing in the May elections come to £32.7 billion
- They hold around £4.5 billion in general fund reserves and another £1.36 billion in housing revenue account and capital receipt reserves
- This does not include the vast reserves held by Labour-controlled councils in London
- There is no legal impediment stopping Labour councils pooling reserves
- Local authorities have significant borrowing powers. This includes "prudential" borrowing (unsupported borrowing) alongside capital borrowing. Local authorities have and continue to use these powers
- Under the Localism Act 2011, local authorities have a "power of competence" to do "anything apart from that which is prohibited"
- Even with the above procedural points, a campaign is needed to unite service users, communities and trade unions in a fight against the Tories to protect local government
- The factors above show that councillors do in fact have options
This SGE therefore agrees:
- To call on Labour, Plaid Cymru and SNP councils to set legal no-cuts budgets, use reserves, capitalise eligible general fund expenditure and borrow prudentially to generate resources so that no council need make cuts. These are short-term measures to buy time to build a national campaign
- That the financial measures must be combined with a national campaign, linking councils, trade unions and communities in a fight against the Tories' austerity programme
- To call on the union's political officers and department to prepare a strategy to take the points in this motion forward
This version of this article was first posted on the Socialist Party website on 5 February 2016 and may vary slightly from the version subsequently printed in The Socialist.