The local council elections in May 2011 will be the first opportunity voters will have in England to register public opposition at the ballot box to the Con-Dem government's unparalleled attack on our public services.
But the elections are not just a chance to make a one-day 'protest vote'. They are also an opportunity to elect councillors who can actually stop many of the cuts from being implemented locally.
Over the years, it is true, local councils have been stripped of many of their powers over different services. Margaret Thatcher, who began this process, famously said, "I must take more power to the centre to stop socialism" - in other words, that public services that 'crowded out' the private sector should be curbed or, where they exist, should be opened up to private companies to make profits from public needs. It is a matter of record that the New Labour government carried on with this approach throughout its 13 years in office - the turnover of private companies running public services reached over £80 billion in 2008, for example, 126% higher than 1995-96 under the previous Tory government.
But councils still have enormous powers and responsibilities, controlling budgets totalling billions of pounds, spent on services from housing to schools, youth clubs, libraries, adult social care, crime reduction, sports centres, highways maintenance and refuse collection, to name but a few. They have legal powers, over some non-council provided services for example, including many of those now privatised, that they can exercise for our benefit.
What councillors do, therefore, can still affect the quality of our daily lives. They certainly don't have to accept every dictate from central government to cut or privatise our services. They have a choice. Even a minority group on a council, or a single councillor, can make a difference, by using their position as democratically elected local representatives to appeal to and help organise community campaigns and trade unionists to fight.
The Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) is an alliance which includes individual trade unionists, community campaigners and different political parties. Yet, while we each have our own general policies and programme, all our candidates are committed to using every opportunity open to councillors - from public campaigning to presenting policy motions at council meetings - to do everything possible to protect and improve our public services. Voting for TUSC councillors will make a difference.
All TUSC councillors will:
- Oppose all cuts to council jobs, services, pay and conditions - we reject the claim that 'some cuts' are necessary to our services.
- Reject above inflation increases in council tax, rent and service charges to compensate for government cuts.
- Vote against the privatisation of council services, or the transfer of council services to 'social enterprises' or 'arms-length' management organisations, which are first steps to privatisation.
- Use all the legal powers available to councils, including powers to refer local NHS decisions, initiate referenda and organise public commissions and consultations, to oppose both the cuts and government polices which centrally impose the transfer of public services to private bodies.
- When faced with government cuts to council funding, councils should refuse to implement the cuts. We will support councils which in the first instance use their reserves and prudential borrowing powers to avoid passing them on - while arguing that the best way to mobilise the mass campaign that is necessary to defeat the cuts is to set a budget that meets the needs of the local community and demands that the government makes up the shortfall.