Tomorrow is the annual Budget Full Council meeting in Bristol. It's probably the single most important meeting I will attend all year, and has taken up a huge amount of my time in recent weeks.
A lot of people have been saying "I hope it goes well" and I’ve had to reply grimly “It’s not going to.” Nobody is going to come out of this meeting a winner except the Conservative Government and their successful imposition of the austerity agenda onto another local authority for another year.
The best we can hope for is to make things a bit less gut-wrenchingly awful. Why? Because the Government has been making HUGE cuts to local authorities for years, and because Labour have not been the opposition that everyone was hoping for.
Sadly I’m not exaggerating how bad the budget cuts are - this year Bristol’s Labour Mayor is making around £100million of cuts, and previous years (under an independent Mayor) there have been cuts of similar orders of magnitude. In a few years from now the grant from national government will be ZERO, because government is expecting Councils to generate ALL of their own income from:
• Council tax (even though it’s a horribly regressive tax which benefits the rich),
• Business rates (which only wealthy areas get significant amounts of, so - oh look - that benefits the rich again),
• Charging for services (which will only generate significant income in - well blow me down, rich areas!).
This means that in the future 0% of your Income Tax (the only vaguely progressive tax that actually charges rich people more) will go towards local services; it will only pay for national government departments, MP’s salaries, the military, etc. Funnily enough, these are also the areas that are mostly being cut less, which is helping to keep Income Tax down for the Tories’ wealthy friends.
We as Greens have been trying to push Bristol’s Labour Mayor into taking up this fight with the Government. The Government will, realistically, never listen to 11 Green councillors from one city. But if Marvin and the other 9 Labour leaders of the 10 ‘core cities’ joined with the Greens and other progressive parties and unions the message would be so much stronger. If they were to join us in prioritising sending a united and firm message saying “no, you can’t do this, people are going to die because of these cuts, you have to give us more” and refused to cooperate until they listened, well that’s an incredibly large combined population to say no to. But Marvin hasn’t done that. He’s obediently passing on the £100m of cuts to Bristol’s services - the ones that keep people out of hospital, off the streets, in education.
So seeing that our attempts at ‘soft power’ persuasion were not working on him, we tried more ‘hard power’ attempts - we drafted a handful of budget amendments to be formally proposed, seconded and voted on at tomorrow’s budget meeting. They included some great ideas for marginally increasing this year’s revenue by paying off loans at a different rate, councillors giving up perks and seeking new ways to create income (1). But on Friday afternoon we were told that all 37 Labour councillors will be whipped to vote against all of our amendments, and the amendments of all other parties meaning that they will all fall, as Labour have an absolute majority. This is despite the fact that all the Green amendments align with Labour’s professed policies. What’s the point of having policies at all if you abandon them the moment the Conservative Government tells you that you have to?
So no, tomorrow isn’t going to go well by any definition, and I’m going to be in a foul mood about it for a while. Next time your local library/school/children’s centre/old people’s home/etc closes, your bins aren’t collected, your friend with a drug addiction stops getting free treatment, your disabled aunt stops getting the benefits she needs to live independently, the news reports that homelessness has quadrupled in the city... please remember what I’ve said. We tried.
1: Some of Bristol Green councillors’ attempts to make the budget a bit less awful:
- Bristol Greens identify additional £1.7m to save vital council services
- Green councillor calls on colleagues to give up parking perk
- Greens oppose Tory tax hike for poorest