Here's the press release:
In the week of George Osborne’s budget statement, North Somerset UNISON is asking all North Somerset councillors to sign up to a series of principles and actions which are set out in a statement entitled “An Alternative to Austerity: The role of Local Government in stimulating the local economy and safeguarding communities”, which councillors will be receiving in their postbags on Wednesday 21st March. It is quite clear that austerity isn’t working and that public spending cuts are having a major impact on the local economy. Research has shown that for every £1 spent on public services, 64 pence is generated in the local economy, and that for every 100 jobs lost in the public sector, the knock on effect will be 41 jobs lost in the private sector. It is therefore no wonder that the government’s public spending cuts are hindering the economic recovery. A walk down Weston High Street nowadays tells the story of the recession. More and more shops are closing down, and those shops that take their place are either charity shops, cheque cashing shops, pawnbrokers, or pound shops. Unemployment is increasing - we are currently seeing the highest levels of female unemployment since 1987 and there are now 1000 young people claiming jobseekers allowance in North Somerset. High levels of unemployment are affecting the government’s ability to reduce the deficit, because there is less taxation being paid. Cutting the 50 pence tax rate, will not only favour the wealthy, but will further reduce the tax take. In addition ordinary working people are experiencing massive job insecurity, pay freezes and pay cuts and quite simply aren’t spending. Localised pay for public sector workers is likely to make this situation worse, as the largest employers in North Somerset are public sector employers – the council, Schools, NHS and Police. Localised pay will simply drive everyone’s pay right down, and will in turn further depress the local economy.
Public spending cuts are also making our country increasingly unfair and unequal, because they hit the poorest and most vulnerable the hardest. North Somerset already has the seventh largest range of inequality in the country. Ordinary working people are seeing their incomes fall, while those that caused the financial crisis continue to receive their enormous bonuses. At the same time Disabled people, elderly people and young people are being hit hard by cuts to services, welfare benefits, education maintenance allowance, and tuition fees. The government’s NHS reforms will create a privatised healthcare system and a postcode lottery for health care. North Somerset already has massive inequalities in health across the district and this is set to get worse if the Health and Social Care bill becomes law in the next few weeks. We are seeing increasing anger at our very unfair and unequal society – Occupy protests have sprung up all over the world, including in nearby Bristol, and the Archbishops of Canterbury and York have expressed their concerns over corporate greed and massive inequality. Even more recently there have been protests against the government’s Work programme, which has led to major employers withdrawing from a programme, which effectively forces unemployed people to work unpaid.
The title of the statement really speaks for itself - it sets out UNISON’s view of “An Alternative to Austerity” - an approach based on sustainable growth and the increased tax revenue, which will come from greater employment and business activity. Crucial to achieving this is a fairer tax system so that those who can afford to pay most do pay the most, and the Government putting an end to the tax avoidance and evasion that costs the country up to £125bn each year. At a local level it recognises that Local Councils have a key role in providing essential services, creating jobs, promoting economic development and challenging the Government’s policies. Public services, including local authorities have an essential role getting the economy through and out of recession. It is imperative that trade unions and councillors are committed to develop actions and responses that protect citizens from the worst impacts of the spending cuts. The key commitments we are asking councillors to sign up to are:
· to protect essential services to families and communities and the most vulnerable individuals in the district;
· to value, recognise and appreciate the role of public sector employment as a positive contributor to the local economy;
· to understand and develop the role of local government as a driver of economic and social progress;
· to work together with trade unions to promote these principles.
The statement also contains actions to stimulate the local economy, such as ensuring the council uses local businesses for its supplies, encouraging local businesses to pay the living wage, and providing apprenticeship and training opportunities, particularly for young people. It also contains actions to safeguard communities, including undertaking robust equality impact assessments on service changes, full consultation with the people of North Somerset, and protecting community and voluntary groups, which provide public services. We believe that all North Somerset councillors, regardless of political affiliation, share our commitment to the principles and actions set out in “An Alternative to Austerity”, and will as a result sign up to it. We wait and see.