Rebuilding Local Democracy

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2014 National Delegate Conference
25 February 2014
Carried as Amended

Conference reaffirms our opposition to the sustained attack on local public services and the public service workers who deliver them – including brutal cuts to local government funding made by a Tory-led government pursuing an ideological agenda that rivals the Thatcher attack on councils in the 1980’s. Despite David Cameron saying councils were “officially the most efficient part of the public sector”. since the 2010 General Election consecutive Budgets and Autumn Statements have slashed council funding so that by the General Election in 2015 councils will have had their collective budgets cut by over £20billion.

These drastic cuts will fundamentally change the role of local government, the scale and range of services that it provides and its capacity to deliver services to communities and individuals, regardless of their needs. Councils have had to bear the brunt of public sector cuts – compromising the care and support they provide to older people and most disadvantaged. In addition to these cuts, councils have seen their tax raising powers restricted, with bribes from central government to freeze council tax. These bribes will contribute to the “funding black hole” when they are eventually withdrawn, forcing councils to make further cuts to services.

Conference is acutely aware that these services will become even more difficult to deliver in the context of an ageing population and calls on all political parties to address the financial black hole in council funding for the elderly. We also cannot ignore the negative impact of these cuts in the homes of local government workers – the vast majority of whom are women. Large scale redundancies, falling wages and cuts to local conditions have seen huge pressures placed upon the lives of council employees and their families, destroying many hopes for a better future.

Conference is aware of the cuts to services taking place in every part of the United Kingdom but is particularly alarmed that these regressive cuts are also unfairly distributed with significant regional differences. For example, between 2010/11 and 2014/15 the ten most deprived local authorities in England, many but not all in northern cities, will lose six times the amount in spending per head of population compared to the ten least deprived local authorities.

Alongside the cuts in funding, this right-wing promotion of councils which simply commission services rather than deliver them has led to the scaling back of vital services, such as counselling, meals on wheels and youth support. Conference remains opposed to plans to meet these challenges through greater privatisation and the government’s re-introduction of compulsory competitive tendering under the banner of “community right to challenge”, which introduces privatisation through the back door. Those councils which merely privatise or outsource their responsibilities are in denial of all the evidence that shows that privatisation costs more in the longer term and rapidly leads to shoddy services. Where services are being delivered by the community, for example with local libraries, are no substitute for professionally staffed and properly funded services.

Conference welcomes the hard-hitting series of UNISON reports published under the title “The Damage” and the work undertaken by the union to establish the true cost of cuts to local public services. Conference calls on the National Executive Council to:

1)Continue to support a UK-wide campaign to defend local council services from further attacks;

2)Work at branch, regional and national levels to highlight the importance of democratically accountable and collectively provided local public services;

3)Encourage alliance building with relevant partners in our communities in pursuit of this campaign;

4)Support the union’s branches and officials engaged in responding to cuts at a local level – including through the provision of educational materials, training and practical tools;

5)Commit to a vibrant local democracy and to work with allies, including sympathetic councillors, to ensure that local government remains a vital component of local democracy;

6)Work in alliance with like minded organisations to find new proposals to tackle the local government funding deficit and secure a stable settlement for locally delivered and properly funded local government services.