Over the coming weeks there will be opportunity for the public to feedback on the consultation over RCT Labour Council's proposed cuts in services. The arguments will be many and varied, some will be based on pure emotion, others on fact - the best will combine both.
One of the difficulties is that the Labour party is far from being the open, democratic party it tries to convince people it is. Only headline department figures are released to Councillors, no real detail, and it is very difficult then to come up with a full range of concrete alternative proposals. This does not of course stop the Cabinet throwing around the accusation that the opposition have no alternatives. Give us the budget to properly scrutinise and we will get back to you!
The problem with arguing against some of these cuts is that they are 'non-statutory' - the Council are under no legal obligation to provide them at the level they do, or in the case of some services provide them at all. Take nursery education for instance, they are only obliged to provide each chid age 3 to 5 with 10 hours per week, not full time. The Labour Council argue that they will still be providing a service that is as good as anywhere else.
What we should then be arguing back is that as good as others is not good enough, and a reduction in current level of service is still a cutback and will still have far reaching affects.
If a need has been identified for these services in the past then surely that need is there more than ever now. If that need has not been identified as one which the Local Authority should fill then why have they been providing them for years? Hasn't that been a waste of public money?
The Labour party are looking at easy options, axing great chunks of services instead of looking to see what they can save across the board. Indeed they are looking at the whole process in the wrong way - swingeing cuts instead of real savings.
One of the Labour Cabinet Members at the meeting on 21st October had the nerve to suggest that 'some of the opposition' were playing politics rather than looking at a settled budget. This in the same breath as having a dig at and trying to blame - as did every one of his colleagues - the Westminster coalition Government, and the Liberal Democrats in particular. The fact that the public audience weren't falling for it seemed to escape them.
We freely admit that we are not averse to playing politics now and again when the occasion calls for it - in fact we are pretty good at it. The difference is we don't do it when it comes to decisions such as these that are of such importance, and we are of course not the ones who can actually make these decisions. That is down to the Labour party in RCT. The other difference is that when we launch political attacks, we do it at our own expense, not at that of the taxpayers of RCT.