Sunday, 14 February 2010

Stop the jobs massacre

Up to 7,000 people working for Birmingham City Council could find themselves out of work in the next few years and services savaged if the Tories and Liberal Democrats continue their disastrous rule. The Birmingham Mail reports that up to another 5,000 jobs could go over the next 5 years, on top of up top 2,000 jobs this year.

From April this year, the Council is slashing spending on jobs and services so that it can repay debt and keep the council tax rise below inflation. This policy is madness.

Birmingham City Council spends more than £3 billion every year. The Tories and Lib Dems plan to sack up to 2,000 in 2010 alone. But when all the costs of this are taken into account this will save the council just £25 million – a tiny contribution to the council’s budget.

Throwing thousands of people onto the dole and cutting vital services will directly damage the local economy. That is fewer people paying tax, more people claiming benefits, and less trade for our shops and business. The quality of education will decline, and more of the elderly will be forced to depend on friends or family for day and residential care. Birmingham is already suffering from the loss of manufacturing jobs and high levels of deprivation. It makes no sense for the council to be adding to this problem.

The Tories and Lib Dems are slashing jobs because they have run up a massive debt. With better financial management they could have avoided this. Now they are panicking and trying to repay the debt too quickly.

Interest rates are at a historic low, so borrowing is cheap. And when the council invests – improving our city and its infrastructure – it can make a return on that investment that is greater than the cost of borrowing. It makes no sense to sack thousands of people to repay this debt now.

One of the reasons the council has run up a big debt is because the Tories and Lib Dems kept the increases in council tax low for electoral reasons. It was the one thing they could boast about at election time. Few people want to pay more tax. But it is just Tory dogma to believe that low taxes are always a good thing.

In fact it is the richer sections of society that benefit most from keeping the council tax rise below inflation. The poorest are protected by council tax benefit. We are not talking about massive bills for council tax payers – just a modest rise that is close to inflation. A few tenths of a percent more would be a small cost for individual householders but would help to preserve vital services and jobs.

The Tories and Lib Dems also have to stop wasting enormous amounts of money. In one year alone, the Council will spend over £100 million on transport Private Finance contracts alone, more on education PFI. Private Finance (or PFI) contracts are more expensive because we are paying private companies profits as well as providing a service. And, consultancy firms are laughing all the way to the bank as the council forks out millions each year in inflated costs.

These cuts will hit council workers and their families hard. But they will also go to the heart of our vital services. Residential and day care centres are being closed, swimming pools lie in ruins, libraries are scaled down, and the budget for housing repairs will be cut.

Birmingham, the second city, has a tenth-rate political leadership. The Tories and Lib Dems have led Birmingham into a financial disaster area.

Protest at Council Cuts, Tuesday 23 February, 4pm – 6pm, Birmingham Council House, Victoria Square. Called by UNISON, UNITE, GMB, UCATT, AMICUS.