Saturday, 2 February 2013

Cuts to local services



The SNP administration of North Ayrshire Council passed its first budget last week.

Amid reams of figures, the bottom-line shows identified ‘efficiency savings’ of £19,673,000 over the next three years, with a further £3,778,000 of ‘efficiency savings’ required but not yet identified. For ‘efficiency savings’ read cuts to services and job losses.

Understandably, the SNP administration would rather focus on its overall budget of £422m for the forthcoming financial year, which it will use to deliver services and resources for the people of North Ayrshire. Rightly, too, SNP councillors point out the reduced funding received from the Scottish Government – passing-on cuts imposed by the UK Government in London – and the effects of UK-imposed changes to welfare alongside increased demand for services. All of this, and the legal requirement to deliver a balanced budget, meant the SNP administration, elected last May, had little scope to deliver a programme that fully meets the needs of local people.

Instead, what was announced at last Wednesday’s Council meeting was the SNP’s attempt to mitigate the impact of Westminster’s devastating cuts. According to one SNP councillor, the budget proposals passed last week were as good as they could possibly have been in the circumstances.

However, despite the efforts of local councillors, the reality of budget cuts means people across North Ayrshire will suffer yet again, and all to provide ‘efficiency savings’ required to reduce public sector spending, which is at record highs because successive UK Governments (Labour then Tory-Lib Dem) used our money to bail-out corrupt and failing privately-owned banks and financial institutions.

It is important to expose the often repeated lie that the current economic crisis is the result of a profligate public sector spending more money than the country made. It was private sector banks that collapsed. Their private debt was then ‘socialised’ or taken-on by the public sector through the decision of UK Governments to use public resources – and borrow more in our name – to bail-out the private banks. The public sector is not responsible for the catastrophic state of the UK economy: that is entirely down to the corrupt capitalist system, and the decision to use public money to save private companies.

UK Government Ministers (Labour, Tory and Lib Dem) argue there was no alternative, but that is not true. They tell us High Street cash machines were within one-hour of closing down, meaning we would have had no access to our cash in personal bank accounts, a situation that required Government to act immediately. That part is true, but the action required was simply to guarantee the savings of personal and business accounts. There was no requirement on Government to completely bail-out the privately-owned banks and to then provide the finance that allowed the spivs and speculators to begin again their corrupt capitalist practices.

In the same week as North Ayrshire Council announced another £23,451,000 of cuts, it was revealed bonuses paid to senior staff at the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) this year are likely to top £250m. Because of the UK Government bail-out – using our money – the public owns 82% of RBS. That means while the poorest people in North Ayrshire are being hammered yet again, we are funding multi-million pound bonuses for the very people who created the economic crisis in the first place.

Royal Bank of Scotland is also likely to be fined in the region of £500m for corruptly manipulating the Libor Rate – the rate at which banks loan to each other and ultimately to us – which means we, as taxpayers and majority shareholders in RBS, will be forking-out again.

Clearly, we are not ‘all in this together’. Already wealthy bankers are getting even richer, while ordinary men, women and children in places like North Ayrshire are getting poorer and, in many cases, are facing a future of unremitting struggle.

The budget passed last week by North Ayrshire councillors won’t help. However, the councillors were right when they said their financial programme was the best possible in the circumstances. Those circumstances, though, are dictated by the very same pro-capitalist politicians at Westminster whose decisions have created the ever-widening wealth gap.

If cuts of over £23m is the best North Ayrshire Council could do ‘in the circumstances’, then maybe it’s time we took action to change the circumstances.

Contrary to the line spun by so-called mainstream politicians and the millionaire owners of the British media, capitalism is not the only economic system available to us. Socialism is alive and well and can deliver a society where the needs of the people come before the profits of multi-national corporations and corrupt bankers.

The same capitalist politicians and newspaper owners will, of course, attempt to portray socialism as the failed system operated in the former Soviet Union. In fact, that system could not have been further from socialism. The Soviet Union was a totalitarian dictatorship, very reminiscent of capitalism with the elite enjoying a privileged status and lifestyle, while the majority of the people struggled to survive.

Socialism simply means running and operating society to the benefit of the people. In a democracy, socialism is an option open to us and it is one desperately needed by the people of North Ayrshire facing further multi-million pound cuts while, at the same time, contributing towards multi-million pound bonuses for already fabulously wealthy bankers.

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