Socialist Worker

Documentary The Council’s focus on cuts doesn’t go deep enough

by Arthur Nicoll
Issue No. 2533

Clearing an abandoned house

Clearing an abandoned house (Pic: Picture: IWC/BBC Scotland)


The Council, a new three-part documentary, follows the experiences of workers at Scotland’s third largest council in Fife.

The council has no large cities but a mix of rural farming areas, former mining villages and coastal fishing towns combined with declining shipbuilding and offshore fabrication yards.

It has a long history of Labour and trade union organisation but suffered hugely from the onslaught on traditional industries in the 1980s.

The show’s content is familiar with the usual mix of filthy house clearances and interactions between council workers and colourful, sometimes challenging, service users.

But there is a focus on the £38 million cuts to the 2016-17 budget.

Successive years of cuts from Westminster and the Scottish National Party (SNP) government have been devastating. The SNP’s emphasis on protecting health spending has left Scottish councils badly hit.

The first episode has brief glimpses of protests outside the council headquarters. The impact of austerity comes across with some of the workers and residents. One road worker explains the impossible pot-hole repair task after years of cuts and a lack of staff.

The bulk of the first show is spent on services for Fife’s significant council housing stock and its social care services.

One thread follows a community worker trying to set up a complex process of consulting with local people over spending a meagre £10,000 on a run-down block of flats in Glenrothes.

It’s hard to take this tokenistic “community engagement” seriously. As one resident says, “£10,000 isn’t going to solve the problems … round here. It’s not enough.”

I hope the series delves deeper into the impact of cuts to local services.


Peter Pan - an entertaining show that challenges sexist stereotypes

Peter Pan and Wendy in the National Theatres production of Peter Pan

Peter Pan and Wendy in the National Theatre's production of Peter Pan (Pic: National Theatre)


The National Theatre’s production of Peter Pan is a funny and entertaining version of a classic story. Directed by Sally Cook it tells the tale of a boy abandoned by his mother who refuses to grow up. Instead Peter makes it his mission to collect other “lost boys” who have been abandoned by their parents.

This production has plenty of impressive stunts. At one point Peter Pan and Wendy, one of the main characters in the play, fly across a part of the audience. Later a huge crocodile emerges from the stage to eat up Captain Hook.

Musicians are stationed by the side of the stage playing throughout, while helpers use ladders at the sides to aid the “flying” of the characters. It’s interesting to be able to watch all of this from the audience.

The play challenges assumptions and stereotypes. At the start, for example, Peter is shown denouncing anyone who treats girls as inferior. And despite the title, it is Wendy rather than Peter who often feels like the central character.

On top of that Captain Hook is played by a woman, Anna Francolini while Tinker Bell is played by a man, Saikat Ahamed. It’s a far cry from the awful Disney version of a pretty, blonde, scantily-clad woman – although he is fairly scantily clad too.

And the play is full of assertive women, such as Wendy’s mother Mrs Darling and Tiger Lily.

Overall this is a funny, entertaining and impressive play. It doesn’t really matter if you aren’t bothered about gender stereotyping – as many young children understandably won’t be. They will still have a great time seeing this.

Peter Pan is on at the National Theatre in London until 4 February. Go to nationaltheatre.org.uk

People Power: Black British Arts and Activism in Hackney 1960s-2000s

Hackney Museum explores people power, migration and politics as part of the borough’s Black History Season 2016.

Visitors can see how African and Caribbean heritage influenced and helped shape the landscape of arts and culture of the London borough of Hackney. It uses film, photography, historical objects and shared memories.

Hackney Museum, 1 Reading Lane, E8 1GQ. Until 21 January

Bedlam: the asylum and beyond

Follow the rise and fall of the mental asylum and explore how it has shaped the complex landscape of mental health today.

Reimagine the institution, informed by the experiences of the patients, doctors, artists and reformers who inhabited the asylum or created alternatives to it.

Wellcome Collection,183 Euston Road, NW1 2BE. Until 15 January

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