The Tory-led Croydon Council continue to get up to their old tricks. This time in connection with their recent sham budget consultation. As usual, a poisonous mixture of secrecy, incompetence and cynicism appears to characterise their activities. Sean Creighton has a good article on the exercise on the InsideCroydon site:
But there’s an interesting question here for progressives, namely, how do local authorities challenge the outrageous spending reductions currently being forced on them by Government, with cuts of up to 8.8% to be implemented from 1 April, on top of the significant cuts already made. The challenges are huge. Vital local services are being eroded at a time when growing inequality, unemployment and poverty means people need them more. The very future of local government is under threat.
But we don’t simply have to sit here and passively absorb the punishment. Where Labour and other progressive forces are in control of councils they should be considering alternative mechanisms including use of reserves, sensible borrowing and production of a ‘needs budget’ to show what should be funded rather than adoption of Government-enforced cuts. Under local government legislation, the latter course clearly risks takeover of the budget process by a ‘Section 151’ officer (usually the local authority’s treasurer who has a number of statutory duties, including the duty to report any unlawful financial activity involving the authority, or failure to set or keep to a balanced budget), as well as sucharges and a ban on holding office for the councillors concerned.
The concern then might be that if this were to happen it would result in even harsher cuts than any planned by Labour councillors. But what if there was a nation-wide campaign on this front. Would Government have the stomach for such a fight? Particularly if it was linked to a coordinated local fightback. Clearly , this situation doesn’t currently apply to Croydon. But the council elections are due in 2014. And it will be interesting to see how Labour position themselves for the election as well as how they challenge Croydon Council in the runup to that point.
In the meantime, let’s work locally to build a really strong coalition of resistance, which mobilises all sections of the community against the cuts. Many readers of this blog will remember Ted Knight, one-time leader of Lambeth Borough Council. He has some interesting observations on these issues, based on his experiences in the 1980s, in a recent post on the LRC site: