Tens of millions of pounds of money for public services is being slashed as councils in Wales vote for what is in some cases the second round of deep cuts. Across the country, schools are facing forced mergers, carers and refuse collectors are being made redundant, and libraries and leisure centres are being shut and sold off.
CAFCC wish to “name and shame” a councillor in particular who has pushed through cuts: Cardiff councillor Phil Hawkins.
Phil Hawkins was the sole Welsh councillor to sign the “Councillors Against Cuts” statement, which NCAFC backs. Hawkins had the full support of Cardiff Trades Council and Cardiff Against the Cuts and a demonstration of hundreds of trade unionists, local activists and students with the support of council unions GMB and Unison took place outside Cardiff Council’s 28 February budget meeting. When the budget debate began, Hawkins reversed himself and announced, “it is with great sadness that I will vote for this budget”.
Hawkins’ sadness will not be as great as those suffering from the £22 million in cuts he voted for. Students at Cardiff Metropolitan University and the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama will lose access to rehearsal, performance and exhibition spaces. A public swimming pool in Splott will close. City libraries will lose one day a week of opening hours. The council has refused to rule out compulsory redundancies. The council’s cabinet member for finance, disgraced former council leader Russell Goodway, says this year’s cuts represent only the first 20% of Labour’s plans to cut services by £110 million by 2017.
The cuts in Wales are doubly unnecessary and the idea that councils “must” cut because of the Coalition-imposed budget settlement is doubly mythical. Wales is very likely to win devolved borrowing and tax-varying powers by 2015, with the Silk Commission on Welsh devolution giving such powers a positive recommendation in their 2012 report; and economist Gerry Holtham has proposed a scheme, already endorsed by the Western Mail, of coordinated borrowing among Welsh councils and the Welsh Assembly in order to bridge the gap. All this underlines the fact that for councils and the Welsh Government to set budgets based on social need and hand the bill to Westminster – who could cover the cost with only incrementally more effort put into collecting evaded or unpaid tax by the rich and big business – is absolutely practical. With Wales’ GDP per capita only three-quarters that of the UK average and with the Welsh rate of economic inactivity the highest in the UK, budgets to save jobs and services are doubly necessary.