It’s important that elected councillors – and Bristol’s elected Mayor – oppose cuts and work to keep all vital local public services.
Instead, whilst Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn speaks at anti-austerity rallies, Bristol Labour’s mayor Marvin Rees has set a budget that:
- Halves the school crossing patrols that improve road safety for kids
- Closes most of Bristol’s libraries
- Removes all funding from Bristol’s parks
- Closes the majority of public toilets
- Cuts sheltered housing advice and help
- Removes funding that supports local swimming pools like Jubilee in Knowle
- Cuts Neighbourhood Partnerships.
This is not an exhaustive list. The mayor says it’s the responsible thing to do to set this budget. He is consulting Bristol’s public on which local services should go but not on whether there should be any cuts at all.
There is nothing responsible about Marvin Rees setting a budget that devastates local services, with some left totally unfunded.
A year ago, Bristol’s Green Party councillors called for Bristol’s then new mayor to act together with all the core cities, all run by Labour, to make representations against austerity to the government.
These cities carry a lot of weight, with the largest economies and populations in the country. Why has it taken Marvin a year to make a case, of sorts, to the Government?
He should have been doing much more than sign a letter a year ago. He should have giving voice to the growing numbers of people who see the complete folly of cuts and austerity economics.
Truth is, Marvin is from the part of the Labour Party that wants to continue austerity but just a little slower and on a slightly smaller scale, as all of Corbyn’s opponents in the first Labour leadership election did.
Does he really fully support the public provision of local services and facilities?
I’m totally opposed to cuts, austerity economics and austerity ideology at national and local level. Cuts are unfair, unjust, are not working, are counter-productive, are building up year-on-year and are biting into essential local services.
Cuts are certainly not the way to invest in and build a fairer, healthier more lively and sustainable city.
We need to invest, not cut, to build strong, informed, involved, empowered, lively and resilient local communities with all the facilities and services to meet their needs.
The Conservative/Liberal Democrat coalition, followed by Conservative government’s austerity policies, have cut budgets for most government departments, cut funding that goes to local government, cut public-sector wages, cut spending by government – and increased the overall tax burden.
Austerity affects our health and wellbeing. It has triggered up to 10,000 additional suicides across Europe and the USA – and 30,000 deaths in England and Wales in 2015 due to austerity measures in healthcare, according to the Royal Society of Medicine.
Many economists advocate economic investment in place of cuts, as a better way of tackling a deficit and debt burden. With interest rates low, borrowing for investment by governments makes a lot sense – the cost of borrowing is low and the development stimulated pays off the deficit and brings down debt over time.
Smart encouragement of the right kinds of development can enhance genuine prosperity and wellbeing. Investment in high energy efficiency, insulated, warm homes; in walking and cycling infrastructure for active, low impact lifestyles; in light rail trains and trams; in low and zero waste systems and creating a circular economy; in renewable energy, can also establish economic security and stability.
Austerity measures can have the effect of depressing the tax base when demand is depressed. Government debt is often compared with household debt but this is incorrect.
The UK has a currency of its own, unlike most countries in the EU, who adopted the Euro and gave up their own currency. Our system of governance can create credit and the Bank of England can set interest rates appropriately to lower economic risks. Austerity can and should be abandoned now.
Glenn Vowles is an environmental ethics and politics blogger at Sustainable Cities, Sustainable World and is the deputy Coordinator of Bristol South Greens, which he was a founder-member of in the 1980’s. Tweet him: @vowlesthegreen
Read more opinion: ‘Library lovers in Bristol face the fight of our lives’