Bristol’s Mayor George Ferguson joins hands with members of the Rainbow Group outside City Hall. Front three L-R: Martin Spellacey (Co-ordinator Friends of Rainbow), Bristol Mayor George Ferguson and Amy Mosley (Co-ordinator Friends of Rainbow). Date:14/05/2014 Photographer: Dave Betts/Freelance. Reporter:
At the beginning of April, Bristol City Council released a very important report (with a very dull-sounding name). This was the report of the council department charged with implementing its ‘efficiency program’ (read ‘cuts’), ‘The Change Board’; its 6-monthly progress report. Buried towards the end of its fairly opaque, jargonistic pages were its predictions on the scale of future cuts to our city.
‘The current modelling suggest that an additional £75.3m will need to be saved by the end of 2019/20’
On top of the almost £90m cut so far, this will have reduced council budgets by almost 80% since 2010.
Cuts of 80% cannot be implemented without triggering the widespread failure of essential frontline services. The compilers of the report itself know this. As they said: –
‘We stated in the last report that “inevitably a time will come when the drive for efficiency within the Council starts to yield decreeing returns”…. It should be acknowledged that this time is with us now…
‘It has been a cornerstone of the programme that we will do all that can be done to avoid cutting frontline services and whilst that continues to be the case, the challenge is increasing’
In a report that emphasised the virtue of ‘optimising’ and ‘modernising’ council services as seemingly the only impulse behind the councils ‘restructuring’, and that makes no mention of funding cuts, this is strong stuff.
*** These cuts are the most significant challenge our city and its citizens face over the next 4 years.
They will fundamentally alter local government as we know it. ***
We mean to put these cuts back at the forefront of the agenda in the current Mayoral and local electoral debate that instead has been trivialised by focused on parking zones, 20 mph speed limits, and the personal rivalries of opposing candidates.
>>> We’re also asking you to challenge all of the main candidates on how they will respond to these £75m CUTS, and whether they are really willing to stand up for Bristol’s people against austerity. Whether that be by email (we will be trying this ourselves), at hustings, or otherwise.
Over the coming months, and years (if the Tory government lasts that long), we will be building the local resistance (working with local trades unions and other local campaigns) to stop these cuts and protect the services that we rely upon. Only a massive mobilisation of ordinary people in Bristol on the streets can save our city.
But to make that job easier for us, we need to use these elections to get the most anti-austerity council possible.
None of the candidates for Mayor likely to get elected has adopted the all out anti-cuts, pro-‘needs budget’ position the People’s Assembly has called for; but both the Labour and Green candidates are nominally against austerity (though the former has chosen not to foreground this in his campaign) and we get two preferential votes.
Furthermore, several councillors (9 Greens, and 1 Lib Dem) have already voted against previous cuts budgets on an anti-austerity basis, and it seems likely that the more pro-Corbyn Labour candidates could be pushed to resist (though it should also be noted that so far all of Bristol’s Labour councillors have voted en masse for every cuts budget proposed during their times in office).
To help build the resistance against this intensification of austerity, we need a Mayor who will take a public stand against Tory austerity and fight for fairer funding, and councillors who are prepared to do that and also (alongside the Mayor ideally) prepared to vote against cuts budgets and prepare their own ‘needs budgets’.
Let’s use our vote this May 5th to make that possible. But even in a best case scenario, this election will not save Bristol’s public services. Only we can do that.