Monday, 14 February 2011

Green response to survey by Suffolk branch of UNISON

Sunday 13th February 2011
 Thank you for your letter of 9th February and your request for all County Councillors to respond. I hope by now you’ll have heard from most of them (including the Council Leader) as your constructive letter raises some very pertinent and urgent questions. The Council Leader and his Cabinet colleagues are the best placed to answer the majority of your questions as they are in the political driving seat.

The baling out of the banks two years ago has cost this country dear – with those reliant on public services and the vulnerable left paying the price, including and especially, the 1,472 County Council staff losing their jobs right now in the first tranche of cuts. Everything is at risk, and it would appear nothing is beyond the reach of Eric Pickles, who is leading the cuts ‘scorched earth’ charge for the ConDem Coalition government.

Is there a mandate for this public services bloodbath, and consequent loss of jobs and services?  

Here in Suffolk there is a very clear agenda for a degree of public spending reductions. There are 55 Conservative and 11 Fib Dems, from a total of 75 County Councillors. The entire County’s MPs are Conservative. This is what the public voted for. These votes have been counted long ago.

But the question remains: did the public vote for the demise of so many key public services? And, hence massive 30% cuts? Suffolk County Council used to be a cherished local institution and employer, with everyone interested in and pursuing a public services career speaking very highly of it. All that one hears now is how unreasonable it is, and what a poor employer it has become. Schools can’t wait to break free from the chaos and calamity brought about by the bungled Schools Organisational Review. The singling out of the Schools Crossing Patrols for cuts – such small beer in financial terms – is the Blue icing on the top! As you say, Suffolk County Council is now becoming the ‘Meanest County’.

I am not a “Deficit denier” and I appreciate that we need to manage this country’s financial and other problems. But I don’t endorse the options now identified for dealing with it. The response of ruthless cuts and austerity measures is an ideological choice made by the big three parties. The pace and severity of austerity cuts is not allowing for any sensible development of options by other organizations. The ConDems genuinely appear to hate local government, and are using this opportunity to oversee its demise. As usual they know only the cost of everything and the value of nothing, and this has been demonstrated by the so-called divestment of libraries ‘consultation’.

When the Greens moved at amendment at Full Council in September 2010 for a ‘wide-ranging consultation’ on New Strategic Direction, the Conservative majority voted this down, replacing our demand for public consultation with the watered-down commitment of ‘engagement’. They only wanted to tell people what they were planning to do, not seek their views as to the efficacy or desirability of doing it.

Their timetable for ‘divestment’ is not dissimilar to political version of a blitzkrieg, and it is combined with a full scale assault on all things now in the public domain – even our forests are up for sale by central government diktat. Country parks, cultural services and libraries face a very uncertain future. Our youth service devastation. The ConDem Government with the County Conservative administration want to change everything (and change it all at the same time regardless of the social and economic consequences), as the PM promised last year ‘even changing our way of life’. I wish for a less reckless County Conservative administration, in fact, for an administration that really wants to conserve what is so good about public services here in Suffolk, rather than Titanic political grandstanding.

Thus far, much talk has centred on the so-called ‘Big Society’, and looking at providing public services in a different way. Civil society and the third sector were supposedly to be called upon to offer up a ‘grassroots’ response. I was warmly disposed to this. But, how hollow does this sound now. The ‘stroke of the pen’ cuts to the third sector are no less vicious than those proposed for Suffolk’s own workforce.

Lastly, and very importantly, the Green Party has proposed an alternative choice for people to consider rather than this slash and burn approach to our public services. This would involve cracking down on tax avoidance and tax evasion, saving billions every year. It would involve the wealthiest people in society paying a fairer share. It would mean saving £100bn over thirty years by scrapping Trident and its proposed replacement. It would involve a windfall tax on bank profits as well as a heavy tax on bankers’ bonuses. It would mean reducing the deficit more slowly, and thus avoiding these savage cuts. Greens and many others who do not “deny the deficit” would prefer the government to make this ideological choice – based on fairness and sustainability – not the one based on destroying public services, creating social division and punishing the poorest people in society.

Yours sincerely,

Councillor Mark Ereira-Guyer
Green & Independent
Suffolk County Council
Bury St


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