Greens accept duty to set balanced budgets


12:56 pm - March 2nd 2011

by Jim Jepps    


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This weekend’s Green party conference reaffirmed our manifesto commitment to “protect basic public services, which are the foundation of an equitable society”.

The motion reads:

The Green Party of England and Wales is opposed to cuts in essential local government services.

Conference calls on GPEX [the national executive], within existing resources, to offer support (e.g. policy and external communications support) to Green Party councillors and other publicly elected Green Party representatives not to vote for such cuts, support them in refusing to do so.

GPEW deplores the Coalition Government’s huge reductions in government grant to each local authority but recognises that each local authority has a legal duty to set a balanced budget.

Green councillors will be supported in putting forward imaginative alternatives that will protect jobs and services.

Such alternatives could include the following:

– cutting senior pay for top council executives
– reducing the millions spent on expensive private sector consultants
– cutting down on glossy PR and council spin
– reducing council fuel bills by making schools, libraries and other buildings more energy efficient
– introducing workplace parking levies

Such a stand will facilitate the effective participation of such representatives and members in the local campaigns against cuts which are required, and will provide a lead for other councillors, trade unionists and community activists.

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About the author
Jim Jepps is a socialist in the Green Party and formerly blogged at the Daily (Maybe). He currently writes on London politics, community and the environment at Big Smoke.
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Reader comments


Traitors. The blood from the cuts (see what I did there?) will be on your hands

2. Stuart Neyton

I was there and disappointed the amendment to remove the line accepting the “duty” to set a balanced budget from the motion fell.

The local election video ends with something like “vote green because someone in your city hall needs to put up a fight”. While i agree creative and imaginative alternative budgets to protect public services while working within the cuts imposed by central government can be a good thing, i think it’s a mistake to rule out setting “illegal” budgets, because in some (particularly the poorest) areas it isn’t possible to set a balanced budget and continue to provide essential front line services.

If all councils that are ideologically opposed to the cuts imposed by this awful government (and this includes at least one Tory council – Blackpool) stood up to central government and refused to implement these cuts, Eric Pickles wouldn’t possibly be able to take control of every local budget. So i think this was a mistake.

However i hope more Greens are elected in May as they really have proven to be the only credible opposition to the cuts.

“Eric Pickles wouldn’t possibly be able to take control of every local budget.”

He doesn’t have to. Every council has a section 151 officer, and it is they who would set the budgets. Eric Pickles would be too busy celebrating to get involved in the detailed budget work.

Interesting.

Just as a small point, I’m not sure how making schools more energy efficient, welcome though that may be, will protect jobs and services.

Schools have devolved budgets (from 1992) and any savings gained from lower fuel bills will benefit the school budget. That’s a good thing, but doesn’t specifically help other council areas suffering cuts, unless school governing bodies agree to use those savings to fund services that would otherwise be cut e.g the VCS. That’s possible, but will need plenty of preparatory work e.g. with the statutory Schools Forum to make it happen on a substantial scale. Schools can be notoriously tight fisted with their allocated resources.

Stuart, as donpaskin points out, its not true that if every council refused to set a balanced budget Pickles would suddenly start crying and perform a U-turn. The legal rules are very, very clear; the officers of the council take over, then Pickles can appoint his friends as commissioners – and do you seriously, seriously think they wont be more aggressive in cutting than Labour or left leaning Lib Dem councils? Pickles wouldnt cave in, he would relish it, an opportunity to take over councils and enforce his right wing world view, cheered on by the Tory right and the Mail. Can you imagine how much they would laugh as they took over inner city councils that they could never dream of winning at the ballot box?

I understand people are disgusted by the cuts, Im horrified. Of course if a council has made an idiotic decision on a service they need to be lobbied against. But overall those on the far left should stop taking aim at those councils who are trying to protect services overall as best they can – they dont have a choice but to make savings.

“This weekend’s Green party conference reaffirmed our manifesto commitment to “protect basic public services, which are the foundation of an equitable society”.

What a thoroughly meaningless commitment. Even the most rabid and ideology-driven pro-cuts right-winger is typically committed to protecting *basic* public services – e.g. a basic level of free education, a basic level of free emergency healthcare. The disagreements between Left and Right on public services tend to be over whether the state should be providing *more* than the basics – e.g. should higher education also be free? Should the state provide all its citizens with comprehensive, high-quality health and social care?

(NB: not having a dig at the Greens’ policies here, just picking up on their use of some very wishy-washy, open-to-interpretation language.)

7. Mr S. Pill

@6

“Even the most rabid and ideology-driven pro-cuts right-winger is typically committed to protecting *basic* public services – e.g. a basic level of free education, a basic level of free emergency healthcare. ”

I wish you were right, but I fear we’ll have to wait until Cameron has outsourced everything under the sun (except for the Army, natch) to his pals & donors in the private sector before we find out. Dial 999 for your McAmbulance; study Retail & Customer Services at your new Tesco Academy…

S.Pill,

I think you are confusing provision and supply there. The common agreement is that the state provides essential services, not supplies them.

So if McDonalds start doing ambulances (‘he’s arresting – quick, give me 50cc of Strawberry milkshake…’), so long as they do the same job (or better) does it matter, so long as the state pays for them (or at least, we pay for them through taxes not directly or through insurance)?

Incidentally, in the main article:

Such alternatives could include the following:

– cutting senior pay for top council executives
– reducing the millions spent on expensive private sector consultants
– cutting down on glossy PR and council spin
– reducing council fuel bills by making schools, libraries and other buildings more energy efficient
– introducing workplace parking levies

Wouldn’t Mr Pickles actually approve of all of those things? The first three have been directly picked out by his utterances, whilst the last two seem reasonable common sense (unless you are say Westmorland Council, whose staff might never make it to work if they were priced out of parking and had to rely on public transport).

10. Mr S. Pill

@8 Watchman

Bearing in mind what McDonalds have done to “food” and the concept of a “restaurant” I’d be very wary about offering them a contract to run ambulance services…

Also: seeing what the private sector has done to the economy and services over the past 20-odd years (see: railways, cleaning in the NHS, etc) I’d be wary about giving them a contract to organise the proverbial piss up in a brewery, frankly. Governments are accountable – we can throw them out – private companies are not. And yes I know the counterarguement is that “well they have to provide a good service otherwise we’ll go elsewhere” but again, looking at the trains (and energy companies and phone companies and banks…), it doesn’t work like that does it.

11. Peter Emms

Local Councillors are turning into the equivalent of the Palestinian Authority carrying out Coalition cuts in the way that the PA polices the Zionist Occupation. If you are of a cut-making bent you should openly join the Coalition, if you are too scared to oppose the cuts you should stand aside. Let us demonstrate for all to see how the very notion of local democracy is an utter sham in this country. It does not surprise me that the Greens are prepared to balance Coalition budgets on their behalf and dress it up as if they are doing something for the environment. The Greens are interested in neither protest or the environment but only power like their Lib Dem big cousins.

Hmm, while I was sad to see the motion pass unamended, many of those speaking in favour of this position didn’t oppose illegal budgets. They just agreed that it is factually true that there is a legal duty to set a ballanced budget. I don’t know how the vote would have gone if it had been an up and down vote on ‘should we support illegal no-cuts budgets if there is a nationwide movement to do so’. But unfortunately it all ended up as a proxy fight, and some without the political understanding to realise how their vote would be seen voted for the technical ‘what it says is strictly speaking true – it doesn’t say we have to keep the law’ line.

So, while many knew that they were opposing no cuts budgets, it is hard to know how this vote would have gone if everyone voting understood how the vote would be seen…

Peter Emms

“If you are of a cut-making bent you should openly join the Coalition, if you are too scared to oppose the cuts you should stand aside.”

I still don’t see how this supposed dichotomy – make cuts/oppose cuts – makes any sense. Households, charities, schools, councils etc. can perfectly well make cuts to their spending while opposing the cuts to their funding that make them necessary.

S. Pill,

Bearing in mind what McDonalds have done to “food” and the concept of a “restaurant” I’d be very wary about offering them a contract to run ambulance services…

Fair enough – although consisent quality (not high quality, to be fair, but not bad) of food the world over isn’t too bad an achievement. And who actually confuses McDonalds and a restaurant?

Also: seeing what the private sector has done to the economy and services over the past 20-odd years (see: railways, cleaning in the NHS, etc) I’d be wary about giving them a contract to organise the proverbial piss up in a brewery, frankly.

Hmmm. Correct me if I’m wrong, but railways and the NHS are still government owned – so it is government provision with private companies being offered guaranteed monopolies which are the problem here. Of course that will cause problems. Let different companies run on the same tracks rather than dividing the country up; let different hospitals offer surgery so we can go to the one without MRSA and the problems will get less (they will never go completely, under any system).

Governments are accountable – we can throw them out – private companies are not. And yes I know the counterarguement is that “well they have to provide a good service otherwise we’ll go elsewhere” but again, looking at the trains (and energy companies and phone companies and banks…), it doesn’t work like that does it.

Energy and phone companies – government-created oligopolies, with high-level entry barriers. Hardly how I’d envisage running anything. Banks are also effectively the same now it has been decided they are too big to fail – there is no danger other than being swallowed by a rival (also unlikely, thankfully). I don’t understand why you always feel the need to hold up examples which are not actually proper markets to make the point really – I agree with you on those, but I feel they make my point, that government interference (as opposed to simply buying services) is hardly worthwhile.

But above all you are missing the key point – in each of these cases we, the consumer, were parcelled out amongst these companies like comodities that could be sold off. We were not given a choice of utilities provider – our existing section of government was sold off; true, we can change, but that is only to another previous section of government (only the phone market is more open, and there BT still has control of lines). What is proposed by Mr Cameron is far more sensible, and far more radical – that we, the consumer, get to select who receives the money from government. We are not the commodity this time – we get to select from the range of services. You are fighting yesterday’s battle if you think this is privitisation all over again – it is something more radical.

Further to what Adam said (reply 12), the vote on the floor was fairly close. I tried to make the point about how it would be seen (alongside saying “please don’t impose a view on this point on local parties”), but clearly didn’t do a good enough job to get that through to people.

The main plus point on the issue of legal vs illegal budgets is that the wording is symbolic rather than substantial. It doesn’t actually impose a duty on Green councillors to vote for legal budgets, or to set one should we become the ruling party (alone or in coalition) in Norwich or Brighton and Hove come the May election.

Could I just make clear this is the wording of the motion – not something I’ve written.

I was at the conference, my first one, and I heard a lot of talk about the green party being a bottom up entirely democratic organisation. This motion appears to me to be doing exactly the opposite in setting a top down party directive to control the actions of individual green councillors.

Green councillors have been elected to represent the views of their constituents, if it so happened that a Green councillor felt the views of his/her constituent would be best represented by the setting of an illegal budget, then that councillor should be free to make that decision without fear of censure from party central office. Green councillors have not been elected to represent the views of the 150 or so party members who attended the conference and passed this motion.

Now I know this motion does not entirely rule out the possibility that a Green council could set an illegal budget, but it does create the impression that any such action would be looked on disapprovingly by the party bigwigs.

Noel, you’re not quite right, otherwise all Green councillors would just be independent.

Green councillors are expected to follow party policy, and while they are free to go against it (including this motion) they might be booted out of their local party, lose the whip, or not get re-selected depending on the feelings and constitutional powers of their local party.

Watchman: “What is proposed by Mr Cameron is far more sensible, and far more radical – that we, the consumer, get to select who receives the money from government. We are not the commodity this time – we get to select from the range of services. You are fighting yesterday’s battle if you think this is privitisation all over again – it is something more radical.”

While I realise that companies in meaningful competition are more likely to provide a good service than those which are not, I fail entirely to see how what Cameron is proposing is different or more radical. Sure, he’s got lots of rhetoric about “choice” and “communities” – but so did Blair and I don’t see how it’s different.

First fundamental problem: generally there’s one hospital available. You can give me a paper ‘choice’ of hospital in my local town or hospital which is inaccessible to me without a car (and if I’m ill I probably won’t be able to drive): ultimately it’s not a real choice. Same with trains, in most cases. If I want to take my custom away from Virgin Trains – well, then, I’d better stop wanting to go to Manchester. Profit incentive? To provide a cheaper, worse service.

Second fundamental problem: even where there’s a choice, there’s usually a shortage. A school in many places can be utterly awful, and it’ll still get plenty of unlucky pupils, because there aren’t very many surplus school places (if there were, people would get quite upset about wasting taxpayer money on empty buildings). Thus the private company is guaranteed pupils, no matter what the level of “choice” provided to pupils/parents on paper. That severely blunts any incentive to compete on quality.

I can’t see Cameron’s radical solutions to these and other problems experienced by New Labour’s privatisations… it amounts to the same old privatisation with a fluffy “community” badge stuck to the front. He never seems to define “community”, which probably means it’ll turn out to include corporations already set up to run privatised public services, like Capita. If it doesn’t, where exactly are “communities” going to get the financial backing to set up and run services?

20. Green vote for cuts

In power the Greens have voted with Labour , Conservatives and Labour – FOR THE CUTS.

Green councillor Amir Jeeraj when asked ‘what should political representatives do?’ He argued that “many of the tools used by radical councils in the 1980s are no longer available to councillors” and has gone on to vote for the cuts.

Bill Randall, the convenor of the Green group on Brighton city council (the largest group of Green councillors in the country), also stated “We can’t stop the cuts, “. In reality the Greens have eaten whole the neo liberal agenda and have voted with other cutting councillors who believe working people should pay for his crisis with cuts to the public sector.


Reactions: Twitter, blogs
  1. Liberal Conspiracy

    Greens accept duty to set balanced council budgets http://bit.ly/dTZAbv

  2. sunny hundal

    Green Party: we should protect public services as much as possible, but have duty to set balanced council budgets http://bit.ly/dTZAbv

  3. BHCC Budget: Why Labour abstained | Dan Wilson | eBay Expert, Online Community Specialist, Author and Blogger

    […] upon the city. No votes. No amendments. No deals. And who knows what that would look like? Even the Greens recognised at their national conference last week that passing a budget is a council’s (and councillors’) […]

  4. blogs of the world

    GPEW deplores the Coalition Government's huge reductions in government grant to each local… http://reduce.li/5de2lv #duty

  5. sunny hundal

    @UKuncut Green party against all cuts? Sorry to disappoint you guys… http://bit.ly/dTZAbv

  6. Jill Hayward

    RT @sunny_hundal: @UKuncut Green party against all cuts? Sorry to disappoint you guys… http://bit.ly/dTZAbv





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