PROTESTERS against drastic council plans to axe nearly all libraries, children’s centres, youth clubs and other community services are calling for Coventry to lead the way in resisting government austerity cuts.
Trade unionists, campaigners and residents are staging a demonstration outside Coventry City Council today against the worst cuts programme in living memory.
Leading Labour councillors are proposing in next month’s budget to axe all services in most city districts, with 1000 more job losses over the next three years.
They say they have no choice but to implement £15million more cuts this year with government funding to councils expected to be halved by 2018.
Coalition ministers failed in their pledge to voters to eliminate the national deficit by this year, with only a half of the deficit cut. Campaigners claim austerity cuts too far and too fast are unnecessary, and harms city jobs and the local economy.
Public consultation over the plans continues this month.
Jane Nellist, Coventry Trades Union Council secretary, said: “The council has already announced its intention to close virtually every library, children and family centre, adult education and community centre as part of budget cuts over the next three years.
“It plans to relocate reduced versions of those services into the city centre and to four area ‘hubs’, although locations for those hubs have yet to be determined.
“Additional plans to make cuts in transport for disabled children have been put on hold. We believe this was because of the scale of protests organised at the end of 2014.
“However, the council intends to go ahead with ending all school crossing patrol services, reducing street cleaning and road maintenance, and cutting another 1000 jobs.
“We believe the council should be seeking the support of local people to challenge government to restore funds stolen from our city instead of closing essential local services.”
The position has been adopted for years by former Socialist councillor and ex-city MP Dave Nellist in challenging successive council budgets.
Mr Nellist, of the Trade Unions and Socialist Coalition, said: “There is also a petition against the cuts which demands that the council use part of its £81million reserves to stop the planned 2015/16 cuts and work with the trade unions and people of the city to campaign for increased government funding for essential local services.
“The council is accepting what London is telling them to do. When London says jump, they say, ‘how high, Sir?”
He said no councillors or MPs turned up for a public meeting about the cuts last week.
Sarah Feeney, Coventry Unison branch secretary, which represents council staff, said some council assets could instead be sold off, and “rising reserves” spent, to protect services.
She said: “We believe it is going to decimate services in Coventry. It’s not just about members’ jobs, it’s about the services they give to the people of Coventry. There are probably very few frontline services it isn’t going to affect.”
Labour councillor Damian Gannon, cabinet member for finance, said all but £7million of council “reserves” were allocated to specific future projects, and to schools.
He said: “Asking for more money from central government is sensible, and we’re doing that. But we can’t postpone making these difficult decisions by using reserves, which can only be spent once. We simply don’t have the spare piles of cash that they think is lying around.”
In addition to what he calls “usable reserves”, the council has “cash balances” of money lying around which has been allocated for proposed future capital projects. Last year, councillors agreed in private to use £14.4million of such “cash balances” to bail out the Ricoh Arena company amid a dispute with Coventry City Football Club.
This year’s budget proposes £3million extra this year from reserves as a one-off payment to support child protection, in addition to £15million extra over three years in the wake of the Daniel Pelka tragedy and an Ofsted “inadequate” rating for children’s services.
Campaigners in Finham, Earlsdon and Coundon have already started campaigns to save their libraries. Cuts to children’s centres have previously met with opposition from parents.