A Bankrupt Vision for Birmingham

17 Sep
Birmingham Council House PLC

Birmingham Council House PLC

 So, it has come to this. The Labour leader of the city council has just announced that another 6000 council jobs are to go over the next four years. By 2018, there will only be 7000 employees left, one third of previous levels. The jobs slaughter will be double that lost over the ending of mass car production in Longbridge.
At the same time, it is announced that the replacement swimming pools will be privately run (and owned?) Community libraries will be pushed towards “mutual” management and ownership, representing another great loss to municipal assets.
The vision for local government sketched out by the Tory Nicholas Ridley in the 1980’s, in which councils would meet once a year to hand out contracts to private providers, is heading towards fruition. Massive cuts, privatisation and the consequent decimation of essential public services is the bankrupt vision on offer for a bankrupt Birmingham. Alongside this, what remains of the council will bend over backwards to accommodate private business and investment, via the unaccountable Greater Birmingham and Solihull Local Enterprise Partnership.
 Does it have to be like this?
  Just imagine, that instead of hiding behind the excuse of ‘an unfair cuts allocation for Birmingham’, there was a defiant reply that once Labour came to national power next May, this devastation would be halted in its tracks; cuts would be cancelled and money restored, A new vision for Birmingham would be on offer; one that built affordable social housing for all those that needed it, one that made local transport publicly owned and benefiting from massive investment, and one that drew up a budget to meet the needs of its citizens via democratic public consultation.
Alongside this there would be a plan of action uniting service users, trades unions and Labour councillors to begin the campaigning in the here and now. The howls of protest from the super-rich and powerful would be faced down; a massive redistribution of wealth would be organised in order to pay for this new vision.
 Alas, the passive acceptance of the cuts by the local Labour administration over the last two years and the commitment to austerity by Miliband and Balls for a future Labour government make the alternative scenario outlined above about as likely as a Tory majority in Scotland.
The National Picture
 We all want to see a defeat of this Tory led government next year, based as it is on austerity, class hatred, war mongering and bigotry, but don’t we also want to see an end to their policies as well?
 And there is the problem.
 While Communities Against the Cuts (and our predecessor Stirchley and Cotteridge against the Cuts) have put up stiff, and often successful, resistance to public service cuts for over four years, we are only a local phenomenon, based in South West Birmingham as we are. If  the Labour  Party had acted in a similar way to CATC and to other similar groups, things would have been so different. But it didn’t and there is no sign that it will.
  Like it or not, we are faced with the need for a national alternative to Labour, one that fights austerity on a day to day basis, locally and nationally, and one that promotes policies in the interests of the vast majority of the population, and not the “1%”. We need an alternative that is active in the community, in the workplace, in the streets and at the ballot box.
  CATC is proud to have set an example for the kind of organisation that is required. Even with our tiny resources, we have shown that it can be done.

Break the Silence on NHS Privatisation!

29 Aug
This video is a follow up on Dr Lucy Reynold’s earlier analysis of the government’s ongoing programme to privatise the NHS by stealth. Talking to local GP Dr Bob Gill, she also elaborates on measures people can take to head off this programme, particularly in relation to the House of Lords debate on April 24th

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dYakMiKwoak

A must-view video, in case you did not see it when it first came out.

 

Northfield Swimming Pool and Fitness Centre

31 Jul
 In early 2012, there were rumours about the possible privatisation of the Northfield Leisure centre. Stirchley and Cotteridge against the Cuts, launched a petition in March 2012 opposing this eventuality, and it had immediate and huge support from users and passers-by.
March 2012

March 2012

 Labour came to power two months later and the alarm died down.
 However, as we know too well, the new administration was soon given notice that it had to introduce devastating cuts to services over a period of several years, and any subsequent hope of opposition from Birmingham Labour came to nothing. We have since witnessed big attacks on Community libraries, Neighbourhood offices, community centres, swimming pools and other services.
 The Northfield Swimming Pool and Fitness Centre was opened in May 1937 as a municipal baths; the fitness suite was added in the 1980s. A major renovation took place a few years ago, but the Council is now saying that it is reaching the end of its life and plan to close it in 2017. In its place they seem to want a new pool in Longbridge, but the idea of a municipal pool that is guaranteed to be accessible and affordable is getting lost, as is the case for the Tiverton Road pool.
 The consultation meeting in Longbridge on Wednesday attracted a good turnout of 80-90 people, but was dominated by presentations from the top table. The short meeting did not allow time for full discussion by the public, but there was a feeling that a privately run pool as part of the new shopping (and hotel?) complex in Longbridge was not what was wanted. The privately run pool in Harborne or the new University Pool in Selly Oak seem to be the model that the Council prefers, or is resigned to be going along with. Would this be a suitable replacement for the current very popular and well-used pool?
 A new community, municipal pool in Northfield would best meet users’ wishes, but they will be most likely be listened to then ignored.
 The current pool costs about £4000 per week to run. (Tiverton costs about £6000). Much is made of the Harborne Pool being apparently self-financing, and presumably the new one would aim to have a neutral balance (or be profit making?). But the idea of public services being paid for out of general taxation and not being subject to market logic is once again getting lost. We have seen how this has impacted on trains and buses in terms of fares; do we want to introduce the same logic into other services such as swimming pools?
 There will be more news about the Northfield pool in the autumn, so those that want a new community pool in Northfield, or wish to retain the current one, will need to watch developments closely.

Repression at the University is met with resistance

29 Jul
A new occupation takes place . . . and is promptly repressed!
The university authorities reveal themselves once more as shameless thugs who are not fit to run an educational institution.
http://www.defendeducationbrum.org/

Council abandoning sheltered housing tenants

24 Jul
                              This letter speaks for itself.
To,
Carol Dawson, District Manager, Services For Older People/Elderly Services
Birmingham City Council, Homes and Neighbourhood Directorate
Level 1, 1 Lancaster Circus, Birmingham B2 2RP
17 July 2014
Dear Madam,
 I live at the above city council-run-sheltered housing scheme and, as a vulnerable person, have felt some sort of reassurance knowing a warden/support officer presence on Scheme five days a week (Monday to Friday) was in place. Indeed, I know a good few of my neighbours have always appreciated being able to know they could go to get help from a trained support officer about a whole range of matters on any of the above-mentioned days. Furthermore, the Services for Older People section of the city council’s website clearly states that each of its Sheltered Housing Schemes “is linked via an alarm to a professional member of staff when on duty from Monday to Friday”. (underlined my emphasis)
 I heard a while back that Thursdays may no longer be covered by a support officer but, to my utter horror, I have recently discovered warden/support officer presence at the above scheme (where a lot of elderly and vulnerable adults reside) has now been slashed back to mean there will only be an officer on Scheme on a Monday and a Wednesday. To make matter even worse, I only found out (from a very hard-pressed support officer) about what amounts to a sixty percent cut in support officer cover by chance.
 Speaking frankly this whole thing is an outrage and it appears the sheltered housing management and other city council officials are presiding over a quite shocking state of affairs where needy and vulnerable service users are being left in a parlous state of affairs and I am directly appealing to you to explain how your duty of care to tenants is being met here.
 These quite savage cuts to this and other services coincide with massive attacks on the much-needed public spending which makes the lives of millions bearable in a country with the seventh largest economy in the world. Every politician who supports these cuts at either national or local government level must be put on the spot because they are all accountable, as are city council officials.
 I am one of many who will not accept that elderly and vulnerable people should be treated in this way just to save a few miserable pounds because human need, human rights, human dignity and human decency come before balance sheets.
 As a service user, I believe I am entitled to have the above concerns properly addressed and look forward to receiving a reply from your department in the near future. Thank you for your time.
      Yours Sincerely,
 City Council Sheltered Housing Tenant and Lay member of Unite the Union.      (Name and address withheld for internet purposes).

 

cc. M Perviaz, Senior Support Officer, Sheltered Housing/Services for Older People
Cllr M Straker-Welds
Cllr L Trickett,
Cllr C Spencer
R Godsiff MP
Birmingham Unison Local Government Branch
Birmingham Trade Union Council
Chair of BCC Sheltered Housing Liaison Board
The mental health advocacy organisation POhWER

Repression of dissent at the University

23 Jul

Occupation

  By suspending two of the students involved in the struggle to save the university from its pro-business agenda, its authorities have shown once again that they are not interested in dialogue. Their only reply to student grievances is to try and shut them up. So Kelly, Simon (and Hattie) have been targeted in order to frighten the others. Communities Against the Cuts has supported the students of Defend Education in the pursuance of its demands and gives its best wishes to the three victimised students. For details, see
http://www.defendeducationbrum.org/

Fire fighters must win

21 Jul
 This evening, from 5-7 pm, witnessed another strike in the series of actions by the Fire Brigades Union over their long running pension dispute. Once again, the banners and pickets were outside the closed Kings Norton fire station, and once again there were the regular hoots of support from passing motorists.

FBU strike 001

 The negotiations have dragged on now for three years and there is no resolution in site. The government has adopted the same mean and vicious attitude towards the fire firefighters as they have to other public sector employees, wanting “more for less”. The number of years of service to qualify for a full pension is to rise from 30 to 40, and the already large amount that a firefighter pays towards the pension, about £3,800 pa, is to rise to over £4000. It is one of the least generous pension arrangements in the public sector (if you discount ministers of course).
 On top of that there have been years of low wage rises, that were preceded by a wage freeze.

FBU strike 005

 This brutal attack on the firefighters is being met with determined resistance by their union, the FBU, with solid strike after solid strike. They are not just fighting for themselves, but for all those that may need the service they provide. Can a 60-year-old be expected to go into burning buildings, and carry people down ladders? It is a bit like the government’s proposals that would lead to 68-year-old PE teachers chasing 16-year-olds around a playing field.
 The idea is that when a firefighter can no longer match the level of fitness required, they will have the “choice” of leaving with a 50% cut in their pension (for a 55-year-old) or getting the sack. Some choice!
 This dispute must be won, as must the similar disputes across the public sector. We wish the FBU all our support and also thank them for their help in our recent election campaign.

FBU strike 010

FBU strike 008

 

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