“Our broad range of services are needed more than ever,” UNISON delegates in Brighton heard this morning as the union’s local government conference got under way.
Brenda Aitchison from Renfrewshire was speaking as conference debated the effects of cuts on council services and how the union can counter them.
Local libraries are just one example, she said, pointing out that author and Sunday Times columnist Caitlin Moran has rightly described them as “cathedrals of the imagination”.
A highlight of the debate came from John Mattrell of Plymouth. He is the city’s learning disability champion – “the only one in the country” – and an “honorary alderman” who warned: “Learning disability services have been cut to the bone, and then the bone has been broken.”
Councillors think they can ignore learning disabled people, he continued, because they don’t vote, “they don’t put on X on a ballot paper”.
But they learned in the general election that “we do put on an X on a ballot paper,” as Plymouth elected its first Labour MP in 100 years.
Introducing the debate and motion, service group executive chair Glenn Campbell said that this month’s election result had brought about a major change, showing that austerity is unpopular, that cuts to police, health and local services are not wanted.
But the Conservatives are still in government and the election still means cuts to the local government support grant and schools continue to face cuts.
However, he said, “strong and stable can turn into weak and wobbly very quickly”.
Jim McFarlane of Dundee added: “People have had enough of this austerity agenda.
“Theresa May and the Tories are anything but strong and stable – they are weak and divided. The Daily Mail said last week ‘austerity is over’ … the Daily Mail!”
That was a point reinforced by Norfolk County’s Fiona Crum, who told delegates: “People were saying Theresa May is strong and stable; so was the Titanic before it met the iceberg.”
The people of the UK need to be Mrs May’s iceberg, she declared.
To help make that a reality, Denise Owen of Ceredigion County branch said: “All local government branches throughout the land will need to make this a campaign a priority.”
Conference agreed and voted for a comprehensive campaign where UNISON “as the largest trade union in local government” will lead the campaign against cuts and for “a return of fair funding for local government” building on and continuing the union’s Save Our Local Services (SOS) campaign trough a wide range of activity and action.