Forget 'sweetheart deals' – this is how Labour councils can beat the Tories at their own game

If the Tories aren’t playing by the rules, why should Labour accept the cuts devolved to their local authorities? Especially when it has been proven that cuts to Labour councils are up to five times higher than to councils controlled by the Conservatives

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The Independent Online

A bewildered Theresa May could only look on as Jeremy Corbyn revealed leaked texts in Prime Minister’s Questions that showed the shambolic sweetheart deal between the Conservatives and Surrey Council. What these damning leaks indicate is that the Tories are never going to play by the rules when it comes to the devolution of austerity. No matter what platitudes they offer about “all councils bearing the same brunt”, they will always look after their own.

This Home Counties love-in demonstrates why it is imperative for Labour-controlled councils to be determined in fighting back against damaging austerity imposed on local governments. After all, if the Tories aren’t playing by the rules, why should Labour accept the cuts devolved to their local authorities? Especially when it has been proven that cuts to Labour councils are up to five times higher than to councils controlled by the Conservatives.

Not only do these revelations prove that the austerity game is rigged against working class communities and Labour controlled areas – it also shows that it’s time that Labour councils resisted a reckless and failing economic policy by refusing to implement cuts devolved to them from central government.

A line often parroted is that any attempt to resist Tory austerity and put forward a no-cuts budget would be illegal. This would be true if a deficit budget was set – but by using councils’ extensive borrowing powers and huge reserves of funding Labour councils would be able to set legally compliant anti-austerity budgets that save public services and jobs.

Every time a budget of this kind has been put forward it has been rejected, but it has also been upheld as legal.

Local authorities consistently take advantage of what is known as “prudential borrowing”, and by making modest increases in this along with a full repayment plan and use of fund reserves they could start a co-ordinated campaign of defiance against the devolved austerity that the Labour Party has always claimed to oppose.

For example: Labour’s Leicester City Council had an estimate of £54m in reserves last year, yet they still persisted with the doctrine that “tough choices” had to be made and put council jobs and public services at risk. In fact, Labour councils across the UK hold billions of pounds in general fund reserves – and according to the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition, there is “no legal impediment stopping Labour councils pooling reserves”.

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While this is clearly a short-term strategy, it is one that has plenty of advantages. If Labour councils co-ordinated across the country, they could mobilise a nationwide campaign of both political pressure and public support that would force the Tories to not only cease and desist with these sweetheart deals but also the failed economic policy of austerity that has decimated working class communities for over a decade.

When the public sees Labour councils fighting for them they will fight for Labour councils in return.

By supporting legal no-cuts budgets, it proves that Labour are a serious opposition that will fight tooth and nail for the communities they represent. Jeremy Corbyn often says that “austerity is a political choice” and it’s about time Labour councils stood up to the Government and opposed their methods of selective austerity.

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