Kevin Bennett: Why I broke Labour whip to vote against Warrington council cuts
Warrington Labour Cllr Kevin Bennett faces expulsion from the party after defying the whip and voting against the cuts last night.
Here he explains his decision:
I expressed my views on what I believe to be the views of many people, on having to implement cuts which are not of our making. It is wrong that we should be in the firing line when all of this is a result of vicious funding cuts by this Tory led coalition government.
How on earth are we going to maintain these level of cuts is beyond me, especially when Cllr Russ Bowden (Executive member of Corporate Resources and Assignments) has said 'we are scraping the bottom of the barrel' with the cuts this year.
This council could safeguard jobs and services for the next 12 months by using reserves and borrowing. This would buy time to build a fight-back against this Tory led coalition government. The Labour councils Executive Members and Portfolio holders are refusing to even consider this option.
I was only given one chance to address my concerns, after scrutinising the Draft Budget document, I tried to put my alternatives forward to the Labour Group, the deputy chair ( Cllr David Keane) shut me down and wouldn't allow me to finish what I was saying. I'm afraid that democracy and free speech has 'died a death' within the Labour Group, but as an elected member and a representative of the people of Fairfield and Howley I demand to be heard.
All I hear is the same mantra 'there's nothing else we can do', but there are alternatives out there and I would have loved the opportunity to discuss these within the confines of my Labour Group, but sadly they don't want to listen.
I don't believe we should increase council tax, which will only raise £1.4 million, especially when we are able to boost our reserves by £2.5 million.
I'm all for saving money for a rainy day, but at the moment it's pouring down out there. So why not refrain from boosting our reserves for this year and keep them at nearly £8 million for the MTFP (medium term financial plan) and just under £6 million in our general and strategic reserves and freeze the council tax.
We are borrowing money for projects such as £2 million for Walton Hall and £1 million for Bank Park when we are losing jobs and looking at outsourcing services. When it's a choice for some of our residents to decide whether to keep warm or eat and the added indignity of having to go to food-banks to feed their families, then I know whose side I'm on. We should be creating jobs not cutting them
There are other routes as well that are deemed to be an 'acceptable budget' and will be decided not by the views of council officials and their legal advisors, but will ultimately be decided by the growing public support against cuts.
Enough is enough, this administration is acting 'as agents of the coalition', and we need to stop burying our heads in the sand and listen to what the alternatives are'.
There is a definite correlation between the worse cuts and deprivation and I see it in my ward. There must be NO compulsory redundancies within the council workforce, and we must fight to keep our services 'in house'. Once there're gone there're gone and probably won't save us money'.
'Then there's the impact of Universal Credit, the 'bedroom tax', PIP payments, Council tax benefits, the benefits cap, the discretionary social fund and the legal aid cuts'.
'The report also states that 'giving responsibility for the Council tax benefit to the councils will give a stronger incentive to get people back to work'.
That's just a cop out for this government, how do we get people back to work without the creation of REAL jobs by this government. It will just put more pressure on the income of cash strapped Labour councils'.
We are turning into an old style 'third world' country, with low pay for most workers below managerial level, with widening pay differentials and poor levels of Capital Investment. The economy is bumping along the bottom with growth about 0.1%, house building at it's lowest since the 1920's, Thatchers 'property owning democracy' is in ruins and who will the economic crisis bear down on the most with soaring food and energy prices, yes you've got it - the poorest households.
Even Thatcher rejected the complete dismantling of the Welfare state when it was suggested by Geoffrey Howe, who was Chancellor at that time. But Cameron and Clegg now intend to implement it.
Teachers are having to deal with hungry children who come to school without food or money. It's a disgrace and what are we doing, borrowing £2 million to do up Walton gardens a million pounds to do up Bank Park.
If as Labour councillors we try to back away from saving local services, we should recognise that by voting for massive cuts we will in effect be voting to abolish ourselves. After all, if the services go, what is the point of having surplus-to-requirement back bench councillors anyway?
Cllr Kevin Bennett represents the Fairfield and Howley ward in Warrington.