Socialist Worker

'Easy-council': Tory councils are a testbed for cuts

by Simon Basketter
Issue No. 2168

Would you like your local council to be run like budget airlines Ryanair and Easyjet?

That is the Tories’ plan – and it isn’t just a plan for after the election. The cuts in jobs and services are happening now.

Barnet council in north London has been nicknamed the “easyCouncil”. Council leader Mike Freer says, “We would be daft not to look at other successful business models such as Ryanair.

“We are looking at how their relentless drive for keeping costs down has worked for them and we are looking at doing the same.”

The Tories are plotting to drive the logic of the market deeper into every part of our lives, and every aspect of public services.

They want to scrap community provision and replace it with the corrosive idea that we should only pay for what we “choose” to use.

Behind the rhetoric, the plan is simple – cut. Vital services such as bin collections will be slashed.

Meanwhile, the rich will be able to pay extra to get special treatment, like jumping the queue for planning permission.

But people who need help at home and can’t afford private care will get a tiny budget, which they will have to manage themselves.

The scheme will hand over customer services and street cleaning to private firms.

It will save the council £15 million in the next 18 months – and lead to thousands of job cuts.

The axe is set to fall on the welfare rights unit, which supports and advises people on benefits.

The housing, refuse, recycling and residential departments will be privatised. And the council is sacking live-in wardens from sheltered housing, replacing them with alarms.

Over the last seven years Barnet has sacked a quarter of its workforce and cut spending by £80 million.

Closed

Libraries have been closed and children’s swings are not being replaced. The council now says it “does not do culture”.

In his day job Freer is a consultant to the banking sector. He has worked with Price Waterhouse Coopers to draft plans to slash the council budget.

Yet the council’s “careful” attitude to money saw it lose £27.4 million of council assets in the collapsed Icelandic banks Glitnir and Landsbanki.

Julian Silverman of the Barnet Community Campaign says, “Handing over council services to private companies is an attempt to return to Dickensian London.”

John Burgess, Barnet Unison union branch secretary, added, “We are in a recession not because of public sector failure but because of private sector failure.”

Barnet is the Tories’ testbed, but other councils are already pushing ahead with similar cuts.

Tory-run Hammersmith & Fulham council has pushed through a swathe of cuts and privatisation measures.

The council decreased spending on child protection, privatised £90 million of services and slashed 950 jobs.

And Tory-run Coventry council is cutting £660,000 from frontline children’s services.

In a speech last month, Tory leader David Cameron told councils they could do “literally whatever they like”, as long as it’s legal.

He called on local authorities to follow the example of business.

Local services have suffered from cuts and privatisation under New Labour. But the Tories look set to push through even more attacks on our services.


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News
Tue 8 Sep 2009, 19:38 BST
Issue No. 2168
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