Councillor Gill Kennett, who was suspended by the Labour Group in Hull for voting against a cuts budget, responds to the recent Labour leadership letter on local authority finances
I CERTAINLY AGREE THAT IN THE ABSENCE OF A MASS CAMPAIGN, any attempt to introduce an illegal budget would be overturned, with councillors debarred from office and spending decisions taken over by council officers or the Secretary of State. The time when this could have had some meaningful effect was when we three stood up against the cuts in Hull. If other cities had stood together, there was a chance of opening divisions in the Coalition on this. That time has now long gone, due to the lack of challenge and the willingness of all councils, including Labour, to welcome outsourcing and privatisation.
Along with refusing to carry out the cuts, Hull Labour Group needed to work with the unions, the workforce - who were ready to challenge and had proved this by ousting the previous LibDem administration and getting Labour elected - and other groups in the community. There was an appetite at that time to fight the cuts, which is being destroyed by the effects of austerity.
Many Labour councils are now just ‘managing the misery’. We need to pressure our local councils through CLPs and wider campaigning groups including Momentum to challenge the present agenda. I agree with the new Labour Leader and Shadow Chancellor that we now have the chance to implement a strategy for the whole of Labour’s local government base to resist the cuts in practice. But in light of our experiences in Hull, it will be done only by mobilising our communities, and the PLP must give the guidance and confidence to those on the ground who are challenging the entrenched hierarchies in their areas.
I agree with the LRC’s call on councils to exhaust all available avenues under the law. This is exactly what we advocated as councillors and it was part of the budget we put forward as Hull Red Labour. Individual councillors should be free to express their views over the cuts. We must work towards a mass campaign of resistance to Tory-driven austerity at a local level and democratise the whole budget-setting process by introducing forms of community participation, focusing on their needs.