We present a message from the Labour Member of Parliament for Cambridge, Daniel Zeichner, to the rally we held on Sunday 5 February in Market Square against Cambridgeshire County Council's latest austerity budget, followed by the text of our secretary's short speeches.
A message of solidarity
Sorry I cannot be here with you in person today but I would like to thank you all for coming and showing your opposition to the cuts of the Tory county council, which will be seeking to cut £35 million in public services this Tuesday. This year they're increasing council tax, last year they didn't even raise as much money as George Osborne suggested they should. Why? Because last year was county council elections, and these Tories always put their own interests first. Some things never change – you really can't trust the Tories. We all know they're callous, but they claim they're competent. But where's the evidence? This is a rich country, yet we see more and more people sleeping on our streets. Just like the 1990s, same old Tories, same old failure.
I am appalled at the extent to which the Conservatives have ploughed on with their heartless, austerity policies but friends, we must continue to be optimistic and remember that it doesn't have to be this way. Last spring Jeremy Corbyn put forward a fully costed manifesto, that put the NHS, education and public services first. It was a manifesto that recognised the value of investing in people and the importance of protecting our most vulnerable.
Thank you all for showing your opposition to austerity and thank you to those that have organized today. The fight against the awful austerity policies of this government will not stop until we see them out of Number 10 and out of control in Cambridgeshire County Council.
So, while they continue to attack public services and those who depend on them, let them know, we will fight them at every turn.
Daniel Zeichner MP
Against the county cuts
We're gathered today ahead of the Conservative-controlled county council's budget meeting on Tuesday, when it will approve another £35m of austerity cuts to public services in Cambridgeshire. This figure is higher than last year's, and about £10m higher than the council projected: these are more deep cuts, if not quite at the recent record of £41m in 2016/17. And of course they fall on top of all the cuts of the last eight years. It's in that cumulative effect that every year of continued austerity is the worst. Last year's cuts endure; last year's priorities, the services it was unthinkable to lose, become this year's cuts; and this year's priorities are just next year's cuts.
I want to look directly at a few of this year's cuts in Cambridgeshire. Children, young people, and their parents face the loss of vital services in this budget. Many of you will know about the £900,000 to be cut from our children's centres, which Paula Champion will speak about later.1 Open to all, these centres are especially valuable to those of us who can't turn for support to private networks. Most of them will close.
Another harsh cut that's had some deserved publicity is the withdrawal of the entire budget (last year £681,000)2 from the Cambridgeshire Race Equality and Diversity Service in schools,3 which will deprive our black, minority ethnic, and Roma, Gypsy, and Traveller children of support, and takes that goal of equality still further out of our reach. In school transport, £766,000 is supposed to be saved by means including 'demand management', in other words demand reduction, in other words service reduction.4 And £1.5m is to be saved from the cost of placements for looked-after children.5 The risks of demand management here, where the demand comes from children in danger, are quite serious.
I'll just pick out a couple more cuts. In adult care, £3.1m is to be saved by reassessing the care needs of those of us with learning disabilities.6 Since the outcome of that assessment is preordained – our needs are going to be written down – this raises similar questions of justice to the rigged work capability assessments that some of us have endured under the Department for Work and Pensions, even before we consider the effects of the withdrawal of care. In library services, £230,000 will be saved at great cost by dropping smaller libraries from council management altogether, leaving them to be run or not by volunteers.7
But let's return to the broad view. This year, after two years' resistance, the Conservatives have accepted the necessity not only to take up the social care precept available since 2016/17, this time at 2 per cent, but also to raise council tax by the amount normally allowed, now 2.99 per cent.
Their leader, Steve Count, claims that his party blocked tax rises to stop people having to pay for 'bloated' public services.8 Yet in 2016/17, the council's own business plan warned that its proposals involved 'an acceptance of greater levels of risk' for people with physical and with learning disabilities;9 it warned that its proposals meant 'older people in their own homes could temporarily experience a ... level of risk that could have serious or life threatening consequences',10 and that 'children [would be] expected to remain in dysfunctional homes for longer periods of time with exposure to greater risk than previously considered acceptable'.11 It should be clear that our services had already been cut to the bone, and that Steve Count and the Conservatives cut them again, and harder than they had to do.
I'd like to stay on this point for one more moment before I finish for now. I think it helps us grasp what £35m of cuts mean when we realize that a substantial council tax rise of 5 per cent, a serious attempt by a local authority to use one of the main levers in its hands, is only projected to bring in £7.5m. These cuts, which after all are only handed down to the shire Tories by Westminster – these are wrecking cuts. They are designed and measured by central government to drive down the level of public services in Britain. (How hard it's driving has just been shown in neighbouring Northamptonshire, where the county council has had to ban all new spending as an emergency measure.) At the end of the demonstration, I'd like to speak again to explain just what we're demanding of Cambridgeshire County Council, which is that it should join what has to be a national struggle to defeat and reverse austerity.
Thanks to all our speakers, who've given us a frighteningly clear idea of what's at stake with these latest cuts. And this is just one year in a programme of austerity that still has no end in sight: successive Conservative and Conservative-led governments have promised a budget surplus in 2015, then 2020, now 2025, and in November the government's independent Office for Budget Responsibility said it would in fact take until 2031.12 At the same time we have to recognize that there's an important sense in which austerity is working. Over the last eight years it's allowed the Conservatives to revoke many of our postwar democratic gains in the form of the welfare state, public services including NHS care, and employment and trade union rights, and to privatize new layers of the public sector.
Back at the local level, we know that a different council could do better for people in Cambridgeshire. The Conservatives have cut carelessly, and deeper than they had to do, in part because of their dogmatic belief that deprivation and need make people – I should say, other people – more 'resilient'. But given the political budget cuts handed down by central government, maybe no council could find the resources to avoid cuts to services; still less to reverse them, as is the People's Assembly's clear object.
So our demand of Cambridgeshire County Council is that it should join the fight against austerity. It should do what it can to support the popular struggle, with for example a protest to central government through existing channels; the preparation of a joint protest platform with other local authorities; and publicity to residents on a realistic, needs-based budget. But with or without the council, that struggle has to continue, and we have to continue it.
1. Cambridgeshire County Council, Business Plan 2018–23, section 3, Finance Tables, proposals A/R.6.224 and F/R.6.110.
2. Cambridgeshire Schools Forum, De-delegations 2018/19, report for a meeting held 19 January 2018.
3. Business Plan 2018–23, section 3, Finance Tables, proposal A/R.7.102.
4. Business Plan 2018–23, section 3, Finance Tables, proposals A/R.6.210, A/R.6.214, and A/R.6.244.
5. Business Plan 2018–23, section 3, Finance Tables, proposal A/R.6.253.
6. Business Plan 2018–23, section 3, Finance Tables, proposal A/R.6.114.
7. Business Plan 2018–23, section 3, Finance Tables, proposal B/R.6.208. What 'service redesign' means here is clearer in Cambridgeshire County Council, Business Plan 2017–22, section 3, Finance Tables, proposal B/R.6.208: 'The proposal is to reduce the number of libraries directly run by the council ... It is unlikely this work can be completed to the original timescale, therefore the associated saving will be deferred to 2018/19.'
8. Josh Thomas, 'Fears "Most Vulnerable" Will Have to Shoulder Cost of Council Budget Plans', Cambridge News, 24 January 2018.
9. Cambridgeshire County Council, Business Plan 2016–17, section 4, Community Impact Assessments, proposal A/R.6.101; proposals A/R.6.102 and A/R.6.111.
10. Business Plan 2016–17, section 4, Community Impact Assessments, proposal A6.201.
11. Business Plan 2016–17, section 4, Community Impact Assessments, proposals 6.406, 6.407.
12. Angela Monaghan, 'UK Prospects for Growth Far Weaker than First Predicted, Says OBR', Guardian, 22 November 2017.