Newcastle City Council Leader Nick Forbes has warned the government cuts could mean failure to meet even statutory duties of care for vulnerable children and adults by 2020.
Council treasurer Paul Woods has told the Newcastle Journal that, according to projections from the Local Government Association, there would be no funding for central services, democracy, highway maintenance, parks, leisure or libraries by 2018. A council announcement on 6 November promised:
• complete axing of youth and play services;
• closure of short break centre for young people;
• closure of an old people's centre;
• an “unknown” number of library and leisure centre closures;
• the closure of customer service centres;
• £400,000 cut to legal services;
• 54% cut to financial services;
• cuts to family support, safeguarding, and Connexions services;
• £110,000 cut to educational psychology services and a £220,000 cut to behaviour and attendance services in schools;
• £2 million (50%) cut to the environmental science budget.
Workers’ demoralisation following the sell out of the 2011 pensions dispute is an obstacle, but burgeoning fights involving local government workers and Labour councilors in Southampton and Hull offer glimmers of hope.
The cuts across the north east (£100 million in Newcastle, a third of its budget; £75 million in Northumberland; £50 million in North Tyneside; £40million in Sunderland) will lead to mass closure of services.
This could include half the libraries and swimming pools in the region. North Tyneside plans to privatise vast swathes of services. In Northumberland, half the staff in Children's Services could face the sack.
Local union leaders and officials say there is no mood for action. But even workers who may not yet have the confidence to fight don't want to turn their backs on service-users. Demoralisation can be turned round. A fightback could focus on demands such as:
• oppose cuts in services, not just job cuts
• local workers and services users must lead the campaign
• demand the council opens the books
• propose alternative needs budgets, oppose privatisation and outsourcing
Rank-and-file organising of local groups of stewards and workers in workplaces across particular services or councils is the essential first step. Organisations such as the United Lefts in Unison or Unite, however well meaning, have not been able to provide a space for developing a rank-and-file alternative strategy.
Those spaces need to be created by activists at local and workplace levels.