|The Council Chamber, just add Councillors.|
Councillor Andrew Cooper, Leader of the Green Party Group speech at the 2011/12 Kirklees Budget Meeting
Green Party Councillors will vote against this budget.
We all know the background to these cuts. A lack of regulation of financial institutions by successive Conservative and Labour Governments and the almost collapse of the banking system.
We know the consequences for us as a Council. £80 million cuts over 4 years up to 2000 Council jobs can and are being lost. We know that Tory Councils in the leafy south such as Dorset actually got an increase in funding. We know that Eric Pickles sought to mislead people about the scale of the cuts by referring to Council cuts in ‘spending power’ rather than the harsh reality faced by many councils.
Through the budget meetings and process the Green Party have held one principle firm throughout . Whatever we did we would not sacrifice social services for solar panels. It became clearer and clearer throughout, that the funding available via central government made that impossible to achieve over the 4 years of the Comprehensive Spending Review. So consequently we have seen the budget for Care for older people reduced from £52 million to around £40 million over the next 4 years and Day Care Services to drop from £5.3 million to £1.5 million and all this at a time when the demand for these services is likely to rise due to demographic change. I don’t really know what a Big Society is but I know what a civilised society is and this cut in funding for those in the most need should not be regarded as civilised by anyone.
There is a real question mark over whether or not the councils stated priorities of supporting older people to be ‘healthy, active and included’ and ‘Enhancing the life chances for young people’ will be achieved through a budget such as this. If you don’t really believe that so much more can be achieved with so much less funding will Kirklees be really doing what it says on its Corporate Priorities tin and if not is this a budget that any Councillor should support?
So, at a national level, what have the ‘conscience of the coalition’ the Liberal Democrats done to help. Over 90 Lib Dem Council leaders and Group leaders wrote an open letter to Eric Pickles in The Times. And a very polite letter it was too. The letter was not so much focussing on the scale of cuts but more on the phasing of them. Somehow or other even this mildest of mild letters was beyond the pale for any Lib Dem Councillor in Kirklees to sign.
Of course I am more than expecting cries of derision from the larger parties on the council asking ‘Where is your alternative?’ and it is a valid question.
I could point out that this is the first time in the 12 years that I’ve been a Councillor that the Green Party has not put an amendment to a Kirklees Budget. We have always sought to use the opportunity that being members of this council brings to improve the quality of life of residents of Kirklees. It is however the third time the Conservatives have failed to produce an amendment. 2 of those occasions were in much less difficult times than this. So I will take no lectures off them.
I could show that there is an alternative to the Government’s austerity package being inflicted on people locally and nationally. That we don’t need to make 2000 people redundant that the government doesn’t need to force a million people into unemployment across the country. Tackling Tax evasion and avoidance could raise £10 Billion /year yet the government is laying off staff at HMRC, a tax on international transactions could raise £10Billion year, putting a higher rate of tax for those earning over £100,000/year could raise billions as could of course taking proper action to tackle the banks who have quite frankly got away with murder . The recent changes to Corporation Tax will mean that Banks will be perversely better off at a time when they openly pay huge bonuses to staff. You have to ask ‘How is it that a Cabinet packed with so many millionaires and stockbrokers could act in such a way?’. The answer is of course very, very easily!
And of course people have an alternative. In a very real way locally they have an alternative vote already. You don’t have to read the report by the Institute for Fiscal Studies to see that is the people in the most dire circumstances who suffer the most under this government. People have the alternative not to vote for parties who penalise the poor to the benefit of the rich. They can send a message to the government and vote out of office Councillors from Parties in the coalition who have put Kirklees and other Councils in the country in this position.
The Green Party will not support this budget it is a matter of principle and conscience. We will not compromise our principles or the people of Kirklees. We leave that to others.