Demand a Mayor Against Austerity (and Council too)!

Bristol's Mayor George Ferguson joins hands with members of the Rainbow Group outside City Hall.

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.

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Bristol PA Statement ahead of today’s Council Budget vote

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From 2pm Today Bristol Council will be voting on continuing with Mayor George Ferguson’s 3-year austerity budget plan of passing on nearly £90 million of cuts to Bristol’s residents and their public services.

Despite Ferguson’s promise not to cut front-line services we’ve seen many of these cut to the bone.

We’ve all experienced the effects of halving the number of staff policing fly tipping (with incidents of fly tipping on our streets more than doubling!). Libraries – critically important in democratising knowledge and providing vital space for our community – have been savaged with both reduced hours and staff, and a highly uncertain futures (£635,000 of planned ‘savings’ are still to be ‘found’). Most shockingly we’ve seen some of Bristol’s disabled children targeted; with the number of beds at the Bush Residential Centre halved. The Bush provides urgent respite care for some of the most vulnerable children and Bristol and there is no alternative provision.

As well as vulnerable children many adults with physical or learning disability are dependent on the support provided by the councils’ social care services. These too have seen biting cuts. The budget for adult care and support by 30.74% since 2010, with a further 11.96% cut for the elderly. The vulnerable have been further targeted, as the council has increased the cost of the community meals services by 33 per cent.

We cannot allow the Council to pass the government’s socially destructive austerity program onto our city and our communities. If austerity continues it won’t be long before we start to see the widespread failure of more and more of the services we rely on, and the consequent multiplying of social misery in our city.

That’s why we’re calling on all of our councillors to vote against today’s austerity budget. They have a duty to fight for our city and the residents they’re meant to represent, and they need to stand up to the government and say no to more cuts in Bristol. We want councils to fight for fairer funding, the use of reserves and prudential borrowing, and the acquisition of new funding streams (like calling on the central government to devolve the collection of business rates early) to give the people of Bristol the budget they need to support the services they rely upon.

Solidarity to all those affected by this vote – we will continue to build the movement of resistance to austerity and its many local impacts, whatever today’s result.