Wednesday’s Council budget meeting gave the best evidence yet that the Green Party is right to propose cutting the number of councillors. Not one Labour councillor took part in the budget debate. The Mayor did it all. Why would we need 74 Labour councillors all saying “yes” to the Mayor? Whether he’s cutting services, deleting the bus lanes, selling off parkland … you don’t get a squeak out of the Labour members. We accept that most if not all councillors do good work in their wards, but a lot of it could be done by volunteers or by staff working for voluntary organisations whose funding is being cut by the council.
The main plank of the Green budget amendments was, again, our bid for a referendum to win the support of the Liverpool people for a rise in council tax. The Mayor’s 1.99% was imposed without a referendum. The Green budget would have given the voters the choice to show they care about things like adult social care day centres and pay an additional 3.01%. Apart from saving the day centres, that money would have freed-up £2.5m per year for other services.
We believe that a “yes” vote in a referendum would show the government that they are wrong to dismiss the damage they are doing to our city. The city is reeling with pain and a referendum vote would reflect that. In December the Mayor said he was considering a referendum-level tax rise. It looks like he’s funked it.
At a time when there is no certainty of help from a new government, it is wrong to let council tax revenue fall further and further behind inflation. It’s already fallen 8.5% in real terms since 2010. The Mayor plans tax freezes for the next two years, so that’s likely to have produced a 12.5% drop in council tax real-term revenues by the time the Mayor comes up for re-election in 2016.
One highlight of Wednesday’s budget “debate” was when the Lord Mayor allowed the Mayor to interrupt the Green budget speech in order to do some mental arithmetic, stating that we had got our figures wrong: our amendment was “rubbish”. He had forgotten that the city treasurer is required to check all figures in budget amendments. She has confirmed since that there was no error. The Mayor has refused to withdraw his allegation. That’s the kind of leadership we have to cope with in Liverpool.
The part the Mayor was objecting to is our proposal to prevent any future library closures. We would do that by cutting the Mayor’s own “Leader’s Fund”and also the “Mayoral Neighbourhood Fund”. These are pots that allow him and local councillors to do good and useful things. But those things are subject to political exploitation: they come with the Mayor’s name on them. We wouldn’t have abolished the funds, just cut them and saved Sefton Park library, and others, from the threat of closure.
The principles of the Green Budget amendments were agreed at local members’ meetings of Liverpool Green Party. We also, for the first time, held a public meeting in St Michaels ward and took part there in debate with members of other parties. The main point of contention there was whether we should be putting forward a zero-cuts amendment. We respect that point of view, but have not been persuaded that it would be workable. Our amendments represent choices that the Mayor could have made starting from where we are, not where we would like to be.