Sheffield Anti Cuts Alliance recently wrote to all Labour Councillors challenging them to oppose the cuts. The letter is reprinted in full below. Councillor Jillian Creasy responded as follows.
Thanks for copying the Green Councillors into your open letter to Labour councillors asking them to set a “no cuts” budget on 1st March. As you may have seen in the press by now, the Green Councillors, following lengthy and robust discussions with members of Sheffield Green Party, have decided to put an amendment which shows how some – but by no means all – cuts could be avoided by a small rise in council tax.
We gave serious consideration to the points raised by the Sheffield Anti Cuts Campaign and the new Councillors against Cuts initiative and recognise the strength of the arguments. At national level, the Green Party is the only one represented on Sheffield City Council and in Westminster to have set out a “no cuts” alternative at the time of the 2010 General Election. We continue to campaign for this at a national level and are deeply disappointed that the main national opposition party remains committed to “austerity” policies. We support the “Fair Deal for Sheffield” campaign, though we think the most important task of those leading it – the local Labour party – is to persuade their own leadership to set out clearly and publicly how they would increase and re- prioritise funds for local authorities and, of course, their alternative to the Coalition government’s welfare reform and the dismantling of public services.
But at local level, the Green Party councillors believe that they have been elected to make choices on behalf of the electorate within a legal and financial framework. This does not prevent us criticising and campaigning to change that framework. But we have accepted the responsibility for making the best possible fist of the conditions we find ourselves in.
You suggest that we could use reserves and borrowing or set a deficit budget. The council is obliged to carry a prudent level of reserves, borrowing can only be used for projects which can be shown to be repayable (“invest to save”) and it is illegal to set a deficit budget. To do any of these things would trigger the council being taken over by Whitehall with civil servants cutting services. This might absolve us of the responsibility for making cuts, but it would make it even harder for local people – tenants, unions, community groups, the voluntary sector – to influence the nature of those cuts. It is important to “bring local communities with us” but we will do this by being honest about the financial decision and genuine consultation about the choices and alternatives at very local level.
We will continue to fight the cuts at national level and try to make sure they are implemented in the least harmful way at a local level. The people we talk to in our ward and in the campaigning groups do understand this. We nevertheless salute your efforts and see SACA as a valuable campaign.
Cllr Jillian Creasy, Green Party
As March 1st 2013 looms, we are writing to urge you to re-commit to the political principles on which you were elected and work to reverse the Labour council’s present policy of implementing the cuts programme of the Coalition government.
People voted for you to protect their jobs, services, housing and amenities – not to attack them. While we know that you disagree with government policy, nevertheless you and your colleagues have become the direct instruments of that policy at local level. You are the ones actually making the cuts and you cannot evade that responsibility. It is no comfort to those losing their livelihoods and services that this is being done to them by the person they voted for.
We welcome the ‘Fair Deal for Sheffield’ initiative and we will help to make the case that Sheffield has been unfairly treated by government. But we do not believe that this initiative on its own can be the answer to Sheffield’s problems. The scale and severity of the cuts to come this year and in following years will mean the devastation of public services and will completely undermine the ability of the Council to defend and promote the well-being of current and future generations of Sheffielders. We therefore particularly welcome the Councillors against the Cuts initiative launched by the Labour Representation Committee and would call upon you to join them in their opposition to cuts in council spending.
You may say that there is no alternative to the present ‘austerity’ policies. But that is simply not true: the majority of economists of all persuasions now agree that cuts will not lead to economic recovery and are taking us further into recession.
You may say that you have no alternative to carrying out the instructions of a democratically elected government. But the present government has no democratic mandate for its current political course. In fact, in the last General Election, the majority of people voted against the type of policies now being pursued. To resist government cuts is therefore at the same time to reject the dishonest manipulation of our democratic system that took place with the formation of the Coalition.
You may say that there is nothing we can do differently at present. But we believe there is a lot you can do: from delaying cuts by drawing on reserves, using borrowing powers, working with tenants and unions to avoid evictions and privatisations, to setting a deficit budget. Other strategies are possible and can be discussed. But the key is to bring the local communities with you – they will rally around when you show you are willing to defend them. And if you are not prepared to take bold measures and show bold leadership, then perhaps you should stand down and allow others to take your place in the fight?
We urge you, then, to reconsider your current position and to work with colleagues to change the current direction of Council policy. Don’t betray your supporters and the people who depend on you: fight for the things you were elected for; fight for what you believe in!
Martin Mayer (Chair)
Geoff Turner (Secretary)
Sheffield Anti-Cuts Alliance
What do you think? Should the Council set an illegal budget and face the consequences, handing over the budget to Whitehall, or do their best to protect Sheffielder’s from the worst of the cuts?