Created: Thursday, 07 November 2013 21:22
Written by James Bell
On 6 November Newcastle City Council announced that it will be increasing the cut to public services of £100m over three years, passed in March this year, by a further £8m. In addition to library closures, the closure of leisure centres, the abolition of the city’s arts budget and the decimation of the city’s youth services, Newcastle residents will now have to face a 'review' – meaning cuts - ‘to Sure Start services sooner than originally planned’ and of ‘services for adults with learning disabilities to cut costs’. Those living in Kenton, a working-class area of Newcastle, will see their Customer Service Centre closed and replaced by ‘an information zone’, an unmanned computer kiosk and a phone. Once again, it is clear who is in the crosshair: the disabled, the poor and single-mothers.
Characteristically, Labour Council Leader Nick Forbes has offered nothing but excuses. In a statement on the council website, he stated that ‘due to yet more Government cuts we have to make further reductions in 2014/15. Despite a lot of hard work we have been unable to plug all of this gap through efficiencies and so we are left with no option but to make some more cuts.’ As we reported in FRFI 231, the ‘hard work’ to which Forbes refers amounts to nothing more than ‘lobbying central government’, all the while complaining that he is in ‘an impossible situation’. The reality is that not a single Labour councillor voted against the cuts budget in March.
In an article about the cuts published by The Evening Chronicle on 7 November, Chi Onwurah, Labour MP for Newcastle Central, stated, ‘Countless studies have shown how important the early years are in helping a child reach their full potential regardless of background’. Despite this, Onwurah has made it very clear that she has no intention of challenging the council's decision. Like Forbes, she has abdicated any responsibility for the cuts, and is quoted as saying: ‘I have spoken to the council and I understand that it is additional cuts from the government that have changed the timing of the Sure Start review’.
This pattern will be familiar to Newcastle’s residents. The increased cuts to Newcastle’s budget come following repeated shirking of responsibility by the Labour-run council. Onwurah has spoken on anti-Bedroom Tax platforms and, in a council meeting on 2 October, Forbes claimed that he was ‘leading the anti-Bedroom Tax campaign in Newcastle’. This is an attempt to pose as an alternative, in reality offering nothing but empty rhetoric. The council continue to implement the bedroom tax, and to date not a single appeal has been heard in Newcastle. Whether it is the city’s spending budget or the Bedroom Tax, Labour councillors and MPs have shown time and time again that they will not resist austerity. The real alternative will have to come from those directly affected by the cuts.