It’s not my job to tell people how to run Gloucester anymore, and I want those in authority to succeed. But on some issues I have bitten my tongue for too long.
Everything we worked for in Gloucester over the past decade, like massive reductions in unemployment, more doctors, nurses, teachers, police – better schools, hospitals and hundreds of millions in regeneration, is in danger of being undone.
In less than 6 months in office the new coalition government has set about reducing the country’s deficit in a hasty and dangerous way that jeopardises 600,000 jobs in the public sector and a further 700,000 in the private sector. The deficit does need to be tackled, but the reckless way that local politicians are setting about cutting £120 million from council services alone is set to wreck over a decade of hard work which restored our City from being Cheltenham’s poor relation to being considered one of the country’s top ten cities in an influential national report just two years ago.
Councillors Mark Hawthorne (Conservative), Jeremy Hilton (Lib Dem) and Richard Graham MP (Conservative) must stop attacking a public sector which provides the private sector with 37 pence of every pound through procurement. If you take £120m out of the local economy through cuts, you will cause shockwaves that will take us back to the 1980s, possibly even the 1920s.
These are dangerous times – just days ago Richard Graham voted for a Bill which will cut the compensation to public sector workers who lose their jobs. I don’t recall seeing any manifesto saying that a party would cut redundancy payments and then tell those same workers that they’d be removed from their jobs in their hundreds of thousands – yet that is what Mr Graham is now supporting.
By cancelling £20m of investment in the Academy at Central Technology College the coalition have not just affected the life chances of local children, they have wielded a hammer to the recovery of the private sector construction companies who were set to benefit. Thousands more jobs depended on the Building Schools for the Future Programme that would have rebuilt Gloucester’s schools from the year 2014. That’s now been shelved by this government. Whilst roaming the City and shaking hands Mr Graham likes to tell us “we’re all in this together.” But we’re not. If he had chosen the state sector for his children instead of Eton he would understand the strain he is imposing on local people. The cuts mooted by the Schools Forum in Gloucester for our local state sector are breathtakingly savage. He should be fighting those cuts.
Hospital wards are closing, there will be cuts to police numbers on our streets, the elderly and the disabled are losing home help, and benefits will be cut to those who have just been made redundant by this government’s over zealous deficit reduction plan. Surely these are measures we elect our politicians to oppose? Hilton, Hawthorne and Graham, I fear, are not doing this out of a belief that this ‘medicine’ will help Gloucester but instead are doing it because this has always been the ambition of Conservative zealots. They want to reduce the state, but they are naïve if they think the private sector – which will take the brunt of the job losses – will be in a position to take up the strain. But by using the Liberal Democrats as their cover, Tories feel liberated to go further and faster than they ever dreamed they could get away with – rolling back the state forever.
The danger is, when Hilton, Hawthorne and Graham are gone, Gloucester won’t need politicians to repair the damage – they will need miracle workers.
As someone who lives here and loves this City I feel deeply saddened and concerned at what is being done in the name of deficit reduction by this government and its local pact of Lib Dems and Tories. My fear is that when Hilton, Hawthorne and Graham understand the consequences of the decisions they are taking, our economy will be nose-diving and a decade of good work in Gloucester will have been dismantled.